Cottage Grove, MN to Winona, MN – 2 days

…It’s only a hill – get over it.        -Tim Badger

Cottage Grove to Lake City  49.5 miles

As I have probably already mentioned 100 times, in most places there is a route on both sides of the river.  When planning our route we compare the mileages, the type of roads, …etc… but there are things we can’t know, like terrain, or if there’s construction or if the roads on one side are in better condition than they are on the other…etc.  So, it appeared that we could save some miles if we crossed over to Wisconsin for awhile today, then back to Minnesota over a bridge at Red Wing and from there on to Lake City.

At first it appeared like a good decision.  We left our hotel and, again, worked our way back to the official MRT route, which quickly put us into the countryside for awhile.DSCN3716DSCN3717

We pedaled about 10 pretty easy miles and crossed a cute little drawbridge over the St. Croix River into Prescott, Wisconsin.   We took a quick break and hopped back on the bikes.


DSCN3720DSCN3721As we rode out of town, I saw a sign for a riverside park -so we took a small detour to take a look.




Another sign at this spot said that there are 40 trains a day through this area.



This is called the “butterfly bench”. There were engraved bricks all around it -so a nice spot for reflection.

Not long after we pedaled out of Prescott, we found ourselves looking ahead to a rather large hill.  OK, I thought, this is probably just one hill in the scheme of things.  NOT.  Why just have one big hill when you can have two or 20?


This was just leaving Prescott and before I knew that we had some climbing to do. I was too busy riding to get the camera out for a long time after this picture!

We basically spent the next 15 miles going either up or down.  The downhills were fun.  I was using my brakes and still hitting almost 30 miles an hour at times!  But they didn’t last nearly long enough and the next climb was always waiting.  I can “brag” and say that on a couple of the climbs I was going at least 4.2 miles an hour at the steepest part.  (Barely enough to keep the bike upright -hah).  As I’ve said repeatedly anytime I write about biking… I HATE HILLS! I actually finished this section feeling pretty proud of myself because I got up them all without walking.

We did finally reach a spot where it more or less leveled off, but that turned out to be a fake-out making us think that the worst was over.

Because next was getting over the river at Red Wing, Minnesota and lucky for us (NOT) they are building a new bridge over the river. The road approaching the old bridge is 2 lanes (one each way) and it had been severely narrowed down with traffic barrels and other construction signs/etc. The good news is that the worst of it was maybe just 1/4 of a mile both before and after the bridge -but it was very tense getting through there.  Even on the bridge, the shoulder was quite narrow.  It was good to have a little bit of space at the edge of the lane, but it still felt very small as semi after semi passed us.  (They were very considerate, which I’m thankful for.)  The road coming off the bridge came to a T intersection and the GPS said our route was continuing right, but by then we’d been riding for about 25 miles without a break (I try to stop every 10-15 miles for a change of pace), so I suggested we go into Red Wing rather than take our chances down the road.  We managed to find a gas station not too far out of our way and took a lunch break.


From there, we had about 15 miles to go and it was a nice ending to the day because it was a gradual downhill or flat the whole way.  We were able to push ourselves a bit and ride at a good pace.  During those last 15 miles, we averaged 16.6 MPH.  Before we started that last part, we were averaging 12.8 MPH.  Final average for the whole day was 13.4.

Our stop for the day was in Lake City, situated on Lake Pepin.  Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake on the river and is the largest lake on the Mississippi.  One of the claims to fame from the area is that a man named Ralph Samuelson invented the sport of water-skiing on Lake Pepin in 1922.

Lake City Post Office


Laura stopped at the post office and took a picture of their mural.


Evidently in 1925, Ralph experimented with being pulled by a sea plane.  He set a speed record by skiing at 80 miles an hour.



Lake Pepin also appears in the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There is a re-creation log cabin at the site of her birthplace about 7 miles from the town of Pepin on the Wisconsin side.

We had the usual end to the day – Find the hotel, get our stuff in the room, get sorted and put on our bathing suits so we could enjoy the hot tub for awhile.


Lake Pepin

Lake City boat

Pearl of the Lake tour boat at Lake Pepin

Miles So Far:  362.6


“A river seems a magic thing.  A magic, moving, living part of the Earth itself.”                                                                                                                                                   – Laura Gilpin

Lake City to Winona 45.8 miles

We got up a bit earlier to try to get out on the road before the forecasted headwind -which was supposed to get stronger as the day went on.  We checked the route and since it was mostly along HWY 61 with a few small side-tracks into a town or along a quieter road, we decided to save miles and just stay on 61 the whole way, rather than strictly follow the MRT.

This meant 45.8 miles of a divided four lane highway with the river to our left and forested bluffs to our right.  The only real changes to the view were either trees blocking the river side or curves in the road ahead. The highway had a wide shoulder and was rolling hills the whole way, but nothing as tough as the other day.  We felt pretty good, but as the wind kicked up later in the day, it got tougher and tougher.


One of the side routes that I was regretting “the road not taken” would have taken us through Wabasha, famously known as the home of Grumpy Old Men (even though the places mentioned are from there, the movie was actually filmed in other places).  Mike and I have been here before with the paddling group, and I enjoyed passing through town with Jane in 2015.  I would have enjoyed seeing it again.  The MRT goes right past Slippery’s Bar -which is a big part of the movie.  Visitors are surprised to realize that the real Slippery’s bears no resemblance at all to the one portrayed in the movie.  The good news is that the real Slippery’s is located right on the river and is a great spot for sitting and watching the river go by.  If it had been lunchtime -that’s where we would have been for sure!

For the most part we just had our noses to the grindstone today.  At one point an eagle flew across the road right in front of Mike’s face – like maybe 20 feet ahead of him.  I was looking down right then and only got to see it’s tail feathers as it flew into the greenery at the side of the road.

Another time we took a break at an overlook and while I was reading the informational sign, Mike saw about five bald eagles flying really close by. When I turned around to look -they’d all flown further away over the river.


DSCN3736dscn3737.jpgDSCN3738Back in 2015, when Jane and I rode this section, we knew the miles for the day were further than we wanted to ride for the day, so I had been out ahead of her looking for a stopping point where we could have Laura pick us up.  I found Lock & Dam #5 and crossed the road to the entrance and stood there waiting for Jane to catch up.  She didn’t see me (I think a semi was passing her and blocked her view as she came around a curve across from where I was standing) and we ended up riding 64 miles that day because by the time I caught up to her we were almost to our hotel and decided to just keep going.

Today, Mike and I started from a different town and didn’t have as far to go for the day, but I was definitely looking forward to us taking a break at the lock.  As it happened, it really was the only good place along there to take a break unless we wanted to just stand on the side of the road.  We got there as they were locking a houseboat through and sat on a bench to watch that and enjoy the sunshine and our lunch.

DSCN3742dscn3741.jpgDSCN3745dscn3743.jpgAs I walked to the restroom, I noticed what has to be one of the oldest Pepsi machines I’ve ever seen.

DSCN3746I pointed it out to Mike and he said it couldn’t possibly still be functional.  I said – “Why would it be out here if it didn’t work?”  So I put my 50 cents in (YES! 50 cents! -and it only took coins) and got a Diet Mountain Dew.  Mike was amazed that it actually worked and asked me if I had another 50 cents.  YEP!

Just before we’d gotten to the lock, Laura passed us in the car.  Most days the GPS takes her to the next town/hotel using highways that we’re not riding on, but today going straight down 61 was the fastest route for both bikes and cars.  Just after she saw us, she went over a hill and disappeared from sight.  She decided to pull off to the side to try to get an action picture of us riding along, but by the time she pulled over, we’d gotten to the lock and stopped.  She hadn’t noticed the turn-in for the lock as she went by and she couldn’t figure out where we’d gone because there were so few side roads through there.  After waiting for about 10 minutes, and photographing another bike rider as a joke, she gave up and continued to the hotel.

Biker 2We arrived about an hour later and like every day,  we rushed to get our bathing suits on for the …WHAT??? There’s no pool or hot tub here??? RATS!

OK, then…let’s find dinner!  After we showered and settled down, we went to the restaurant next door to unwind.  They had a good happy hour and we were very interested in getting happy!

This morning, Mike and I started talking at breakfast and continued talking off and on during the day as we rode…and thinking things over when we weren’t talking… and we’ve decided that 500 miles is going to be our stopping point for now.  We’ve been riding well -but there are other factors/distractions contributing to the decision to “hit the pause button” (as I’ve been calling it).  One big one for me is the weather.  It really hasn’t been that nice overall since the start and we are expecting a very strong headwind and rain (again) tomorrow.  If we were doing this without a car, we might have just cursed our luck/timing for this trip and kept going like we did when we rode the Danube River in Germany.  Having our car along means we can decide when enough is enough.

Miles So Far:  408.4

Categories: Cottage Grove, MN to Winona, MN

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