Winona, MN to La Crosse, WI to Iowa – 2 days

IMGP0488Winona, MN to La Crosse, WI

Miles: 33.5   *   Avg. Speed: 12   *   Crashes: 0   *   Wildlife: 0   *   Hotel with Pool/Spa: -ish

We were so tired from yesterday that this morning arrived a bit too soon.  I didn’t set my alarm because I figured Jane would wake me up.  When I woke up -an hour later than usual I saw that Jane was already up but trying not to disturb me.  We still managed to get on the road at a reasonable time.

When we started this trip, we said to each other.  No pressure…we’ll just ride as far as two weeks takes us.  That worked for awhile -but you can’t keep a results oriented Janie down for long!  After the first week she started thinking about it and asked me if I thought we’d make it out of Minnesota.  I said, “Sure!  We can do that anytime.  All we have to do is cross the river.”  🙂   Of course she meant by traveling South and crossing the Iowa border.  Then she started adding up our miles so far and how many days were left to ride.  Hmmm…she thought…I think we could ride 500 miles.  So we talked it over and agreed that we should have a goal of 500 miles for the trip (very doable) and the bonus would be leaving Minnesota in our rear view mirror before the end of the trip.  The problem with 500 miles as a goal was that once we decided that -it was going to be more or less exactly that.  So, after our big ride yesterday, we knew we had about 70 miles left and two days to ride them.  I think having two easy days is a good way to end the trip.

Well -today wasn’t that easy.  We left Winona via Hwy 61 …again… (Let me tell you we’ve both had about enough of Hwy 61 for awhile!)

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Cute road sign

It wasn’t long before we cozied up to the river and stayed more or less alongside it most of the way today.  At least that gave us something to look at besides the 18-wheelers and other traffic whizzing by.

IMGP0493At the 10 mile mark we were standing on the side of the road taking a break when a man came along riding a bike.  Turns out he lived near by and was on his way somewhere.  He nicely took the time to stop and ask us if we were OK?  We said yes…and then he dropped the news that there was construction ahead and there would be a detour.  About 5 miles from where we were stopped, the MRT divides into two routes that connect back to the main route a bit further down the road.  One follows the river and that’s the one we were planning on using.  The other one goes up out of the river valley and follows a scenic highway for several miles.  The man seemed to be saying that we’d have to go up the big hill because the other way was closed.  I told Jane, “I’ve ridden up out of the valley from Winona once and I don’t care if I ever do that again!”  (Anyone who’s read my blog in the past knows I HATE hills… this was a hill on steroids.)

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It so happened that there was a state park along the route that I suspected might have views and so we had already arranged for Laura to meet us near the park, which also happened to be where the MRT divided.  When we got to her, we loaded up the bikes and drove up that monster hill – it was at least 2 miles …all uphill… to the top.  We found the park and once there I remembered that I’d been to that one before and to see the views, you had to hike.  We didn’t have time for that…so back down the hill we went.

Since the car was with us, we decided to drive ahead and do a reconnaissance mission to see if the bike man knew what he was talking about.  He did.  There’s supposed to be a bike trail that gets riders around a tricky part of the road where Hwy 61 joins up with I-90 and becomes an expressway for awhile.  We got to where we could see the path and it was obvious there’d be no “seeing about that!”

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We could tell there was no going forward!

We arranged with Laura to take us back and drop us off where she met us earlier by the big hill and meet us again where the road ended to shuttle us past the construction.

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Laura was patiently waiting at the point where we couldn’t ride further and shuttled us past the construction mess (and it was a huge mess) for about 5 miles to the town of La Crescent, which is across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

For those who don’t know, myself and many family members like to say that dimes are a hello from heaven when we find them along the way.  During this trip Jane has found several dimes and pennies.  She says both are “hellos”, but she favors pennies from heaven. I’ve been telling her that she’s snatching my dimes!  Finders keepers, she says.  So for the last couple of days while riding I’ve been grumbling and saying quite emphatically – I want my own dime!!  This morning when I asked the desk clerk to unlock the room where our bikes were I found a dime just outside the door as I was pushing my bike out.  YAY!  Then, at mile 9 going down the road in the middle of nowhere, I found another one!

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The view ahead of where I found my dime.

I was so excited that I waited for Jane to catch me and I said, “I found a dime on the road right here!”  She was like, “That’s nice. I already found one on the road a couple of miles ago!”

The other decision for the day was if we were going to cross the river to Wisconsin at La Crescent and ride on that side for awhile.  The Minnesota MRT map indicated that the road between La Crescent and the Iowa border was dodgy – no shoulders and no promises about the surface conditions.  The bike man said the road was OK (except the lack of shoulders) but that the Wisconsin side might be a bit nicer to ride on.

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House boats near the bridge

We crossed the river for the last time (so we thought) at La Crosse and proceeded to spend the next 10 miles or so dodging city traffic and having Minneapolis/St. Paul flashbacks before finally seeing the city lose its grip and the countryside start to take back over.

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We did get to see the world’s largest 6 pack

We both were glad that the “rough riding” was over and done with.  Our last 35 miles of riding tomorrow should be relatively easy – or so we hope!

We kept our eyes open for a good spot to have Laura come get us.  The only hotel we could find for the night was a few miles North of where we’d crossed the river to La Crosse.  She came and got us and we got to relive our city trauma because the hotel was pretty much back the way we’d just come.   We settled in for the night excited to know that we had only one more day to ride.

 

IMGP0548La Crosse, WI to (just past) Lansing, IA

Miles: 34.5   *   Avg Speed: 12.8   *   Crashes: 0   *   Flat Tires: 1   *   Wildlife:  7 categories of roadkill

We weren’t moving very fast this morning -at least I wasn’t.  Jane had done the math and we only needed to go 33.7 miles to reach the goal of 500 miles for the trip.  Easy-peasy!  (Almost)

Each morning as part of our departure, we’d make sure our luggage and personal items were loaded in the car before we left.  Then we’d take our bikes out and either start riding or put them on the rack if we needed to shuttle.  It wasn’t until I put my bike on the rack that I noticed my front tire was completely flat.  What?  It hadn’t been the day before!  We pumped it up and it looked like it was holding the air, but the question was -would it hold for 33.7 miles?  We decided it would be best to not bet on.  Google to the rescue.  There were two bike shops within a few blocks of us and one was already open for the day.  We popped in there and in no time at all I had a new tube in my front tire and we were off to the races.  Of course, there was still the shuttle back to where we’d stopped the day before, which would take about 20 minutes.

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We found ourselves at our starting point much later than expected, but feeling confident we’d whip out 33.7 miles in no time flat.

IMGP0519The road shoulder wasn’t the widest or the nicest one we’d seen during this trip -but we were in a forgiving mood knowing we didn’t have that far to go.

IMGP0523That stretch of highway also wasn’t very forgiving to the wildlife:  My 7 categories of road kill are snake, frog, turtle, hawk, opossum, raccoon & skunk.

The ride was pretty because we were, again, able to ride next to the river nearly the whole time.

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IMGP0522We also had the benefit of a slight downhill for the first 20 miles or so.  The plan was to just keep riding until the odometer read 33.7 and then let Laura know where to pick us up.  We passed by a couple of small river towns that the paddling trip has visited in the past.  I think Jane was getting a little tired of the “Terry Lea camped here” stories.

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The next bridge over the river South of La Crosse crossed to an Iowa town called Lansing.  Looking at the map the night before, we’d assumed that Laura would be picking us at some point before that and we’d be crossing to Iowa in the car.  At our 20 mile rest stop I noticed a road sign that said:  Lansing 5 miles.  I thought, hmmm I wonder if Jane would want to cross over by bike and finish this in Iowa?  When she caught up to me I told her that idea and she actually jumped for joy.  She had been really wanting to ride in Iowa as a somewhat symbolic gesture since the road conditions didn’t allow us to ride across the Minnesota/Iowa border directly.  We liked the idea of being able to say we’d ridden in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa on the trip.

Laura was somewhere behind us on her way to catching up so we texted her our change of plans and took the turn to Lansing.  It was at a very wide part of the river and first we rode over a bridge that crossed over a slough (backwater) and then a busy, narrow road for a mile or so that crossed some islands and small river channels (small bridges). IMGP0526

“Where’s the bridge?” Jane wondered.  The question was answered soon enough.  While I remember places I’ve been and some of the things I’ve seen along the river from paddling it -I don’t always have all the bits and pieces in the right places.  I can’t say I remembered the Lansing bridge or I might not have been brave enough to agree to cross there.

IMGP0528As we approached it and I got a load of it and the sign saying “Narrow Bridge”, I pulled over and told Jane, “I’m not that confident about crossing this bridge. Do you want to wait for Laura and take a ride across it?”

IMGP0530She looked it over and pointed out that there was a wider lane on the right side and that she felt there would be a comfortable space for us to go for it.  No stopping her!  It was a metal deck bridge and I was nervous my skinny tires would get caught up in the surface somehow and trip me up. Plus it was a pretty good uphill to get up on it.

It went reasonably well, but I was holding my breath the whole way.  I may not have mentioned before now that I take a lot of my photos while I’m riding my bike because I don’t want to stop unless I see something that needs more than a quick picture.  I really wanted a picture at the top of the bridge but was hanging onto the handlebars for dear life for most of it.  There was one relatively flat segment that gave me a split second to grab the camera and snap – and that was it.

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Our view as we came down the steep ramp on the Iowa side was:

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Jane said she was so happy to be in Iowa that she had tears in her eyes.  I think it represented and confirmed our real sense of having ridden a long way in the last couple of weeks -Minnesota was officially in the rear-view mirror.

We took a few twists and turns through Lansing (Terry Lea has camped there!) and then headed South along the river again.

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IMGP0541At that point we only had about 7 miles to the finish line.  We were home free!  ALMOST… The road was a bit up and down but nothing we hadn’t seen before… until… about the 30 mile mark when the uphill started.  We were still going up at the 31 mile mark…and the 32 mile mark… and almost to the 33 mile mark.

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It wasn’t as steep as the hill we avoided climbing back in Winona the other day -but it was by far the longest climb we’d had in 499 miles.  Thankfully there was an end to it and there was a downhill waiting (the reward as I like to call it).  I said to Jane, “Only one mile left!”  She said, “I’m going ALL THE WAY down that hill, I EARNED it!  And so we did!  We stopped part-way down the hill at the 33.7 mile mark for our official 500 mile selfie:

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We pulled over in a driveway as the downhill was ending and just before a new hill was starting and Laura was ready to load us up.  It was a very nondescript spot to end our trip, but mission accomplished… 500 miles!

Not far away near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, I knew there was a state park with a gorgeous view and suggested to Jane and Laura that we take the time to go there.  They agreed and this is what we saw looking North toward the way we’d just come.

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Jane says she always treats herself to ice-cream after a ride, so a major order of business was finding some ice-cream between Prairie du Chien and our next destination, Davenport, Iowa.  Success was finally achieved in Dubuque after about an hour of driving!

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I joked that before we found the ice-cream place that there was a lot of complaining coming from the back seat about the lack of ice-cream opportunities and a lot of quiet after we got our cones!

A dear friend of ours, Jim, lives in Davenport.  He invited us to spend the night at his house and we invited him out to dinner.  Davenport was a couple of hours drive from where we’d ended the trip, but it was really worth the drive! We all piled into Jim’s classic convertible and took a ride into Davenport. Jim picked a restaurant -where else?- along the Mississippi where we sat outdoors on a beautiful night under a beautiful full moon and enjoyed seeing the river at night (which we hadn’t actually seen during this trip).  A paddle-wheeler style tour boat lit up like a Christmas tree passed by, as well as many other boats.

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IMGP0567The river was so calm that the lights were reflecting everywhere.  Just lovely.  After dinner Jim gave us a little tour of Davenport and took us to Whitey’s the local ice cream emporium where we had dessert.  It was really just the perfect ending to a perfect trip!

I can’t end my blog without giving huge thanks to my sisters.  Without Jane, I wouldn’t have had a riding partner for the trip.  She definitely has a “can do” attitude and was ready every day to take on the road ahead.

Most of all -our trip couldn’t have happened as comfortably as it did without Laura being willing to drive our support vehicle.

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It is a completely thankless job and she performed it admirably.  While we were out having “fun” riding our bikes, she was checking out of the hotels, checking in to the next one (and dragging our possessions in for us), running errands, helping with laundry, shuttling us, and doing whatever it took to make our days as least complicated as possible.  She was our worker bee and we appreciated her efforts more than she probably knows.

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And so ends the Mississippi River bike ride (for now!)

river postcard

 



Categories: Winona to Lacrosse

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