…Sometimes you need to press pause to let everything sink in. -Sebastian Vettel
Winona to Genoa 48.9 Miles
The weather report didn’t look good. We were supposed to have ferocious headwinds and Mike’s weather-app showed a possible small storm cell heading our way. Last night we’d considered flipping the route today by shuttling ourselves to our destination and riding the miles South to North to take advantage of the wind at our backs.
When we woke up this morning I suggested we just go for it and see what happened because the shuttling logistics were getting too complicated. We asked Laura to catch up to us after she checked out of the hotel to see how we were faring. We arranged a meeting point in a town called La Crescent, MN, which was about 27 miles down the road and across the river from La Crosse, Wisconsin. We agreed that if the wind or weather was just too awful, we’d load up the bikes there and call it a day.
Because of Labor Day weekend, (today was Friday of the weekend) we’d had trouble finding a hotel 40-50 miles down the road for the night, so we looked further ahead and found a place in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, which was about 100 miles away from Winona. We booked three nights there thinking we’d ride the miles in two days (with some shuttling) and then take a rest day.
We left Winona on HWY 61, planning to stay mostly on it until we crossed the river to La Crosse. The wind was trying hard to play havoc with us, but the bluffs tended to help block it out at times -depending on which way the road curved as we went along. Our miles on HWY 61 were about 15 miles, slightly downhill, and us seeing more “river to the left and bluffs to the right”.
The sky was threatening rain for awhile but we were able to get the clouds behind us and stay out of our rain gear. It stayed gloomy for the first 3 hours or so, then the sun came out. It ended up being one of the warmest days we’ve had on the trip.
About 10 miles outside of La Crescent, the MRT diverts onto a smaller road along the river near a small town called Dakota because HWY 61 temporarily becomes part of I-90 and bikes aren’t allowed.
The town is tucked in between the highway spaghetti and the river. The 2010 census has the population as 323 people. There was mostly houses and a bar or two plus nice views of the river.
After following the River Road for a couple of miles, we came to a spot where it dead-ends and car traffic turns right to continue to the expressway or another country road. Bike traffic turns left onto a bike trail.
Three years ago, this trail was under construction and Jane and I chose to be shuttled past the construction to a gas station in La Crescent, rather than take the detour up a giant hill. It was nice to see the completed path. It went along the river, next to railroad tracks until we got to the “spaghetti” part where the highways all share the road temporarily and then split off again. The trail deftly wove us through that area, including getting to ride on our own little overpass, before we were funneled back onto HWY 61 when it was safe to be riding on the shoulder again.
We had told Laura to meet us at the gas station in La Crescent for a decision about whether or not we would keep riding. We made better time than expected for the first 27 miles and got there before she did. We took a good long break and knew that once Laura caught up, we’d be telling her we were going to keep riding for now. When Laura arrived, I was sitting outside the gas station on a bench with Mike enjoying a rare bit of sunshine. In a quiet moment, I thought to myself – Hmmm, I haven’t even found a dime yet on this trip…what’s up with that? (For those who don’t know, my family considers dimes a “hello” from our parents in heaven and we get a kick out of finding them when we’re traveling -or just doing our normal routine). I kid you not – it wasn’t more than a few minutes later when I saw Mike bend down and pick something up off the ground right by his feet – yep, a dime!
We checked our route and picked another gas station 7 miles down the road for the next “check-in” with Laura. She took a photo of us riding off and then drove ahead to wait for us at the next checkpoint.
Mike was wearing his Michigan State biking jersey today (because it was game day!) and a couple of men going into the gas station joked that he had a lot of nerve wearing that shirt around there! It was said with a laugh in very friendly Big 10 rivalry sort of way. They were Wisconsin fans.
It was time to cross over the river to La Crosse. The MRT routed us across the street from the gas station and down onto a side road that paralleled the highway. In a few blocks it brought us under a bridge and then up a bike path alongside of it to the pedestrian/bike path that would take us to the bridge. It was great getting to that spot without us having to cross the very busy highway intersection.
We rode for a couple of miles on an approach road through the backwaters, officially entered Wisconsin (for the second time) and then we could see the bridge ahead.
The bridge had a very nice pedestrian/bike lane, but we had to deal with a couple of strong gusts of wind while crossing. My bike was getting pushed sideways a bit.
La Crosse was a different story as far as having a nice lane to ride in. The road we needed to take was a busy city thoroughfare with very little shoulder space to ride on. We ended up riding on the sidewalk (which may have also been a bike trail, but wasn’t clearly marked) until we got out of the city limits, which couldn’t come soon enough for us. It was a very rough ride for a few miles.
We met up with Laura at a gas station just before finally getting out of La Crosse’s clutches. We took another break there and decided we wanted to ride further. We checked our maps again and arranged with Laura to meet again 8 more miles down the road in a town called Stoddard.
We had hopes that the bluffs/terrain on the Wisconsin side of the river and perhaps a bend in the river would help in blocking the wind. As it turns out, we did find it a bit easier to ride on the East bank of the river.
Along the way we passed a century farm and an overlook.
As we rolled into Stoddard, I could see our van parked at the gas station on the left as planned, but directly across the street was an ice-cream shop. I told Mike… We need ice cream!!! The sun had finally emerged and it was actually getting really hot. It was one of the first days I was able to ride without a jacket or long sleeves on.
We stopped at the gas station long enough to tell Laura to “take a hike” (across the street). She treated us because she said we’d been working hard all day.
By then we’d gone about 43 miles and still felt pretty good so checked the maps for a good stopping place ahead and decided to ride 6 more miles to the very small town of Genoa.
As we were getting ready to get back on the bikes, a man approached Mike and said, “Didn’t I see you two on the highway outside of Winona this morning?” He said he’d passed us South of Winona -he’d been on his way home (the town we were now in, I believe)- and noticed us standing on the side of the road. We joked that it took 40 miles or so, but we’d finally caught up to him!
Those last six miles went by pretty fast -but we were more than ready to be done when we rolled into Genoa. Laura finally got her action photos of us riding down the road.
We were two happy campers loading our packs into the car and putting our bikes on the rack. We still had about 43 miles to go to get to our hotel.
As we drove toward Prairie Du Chien, we were getting a preview of the route for the next day. The plan was to have Laura drive us back to Genoa in the morning and then we’d bike back to the same hotel in Prairie du Chien. Sometimes seeing the route in advance isn’t a good thing. Mike was quite focused on the road conditions we were seeing and wasn’t exceptionally happy about them.
Along the way we passed a lock and dam and saw a paddle wheeler coming out. It would have been fun to see it lock through.
In Prairie du Chien, there was quite a bit of construction that made getting to our hotel somewhat convoluted, but we managed. As usual, Mike and I got our luggage to the room and changed into our bathing suits to head for the hot tub. Then the next thing on the list after that and a shower – was dinner.
Miles So Far: 457.3
After dinner, Mike checked the weather for the next day like usual. The prediction was for rain and more headwinds. He also looked at the extended forecast for the next several days and it was basically rain, rain and more rain. That news cast a bit of a pall on the trip for both of us. When Mike started thinking about having to get up extra early to shuttle nearly an hour back to Genoa and then ride the road we’d just seen in rainy/windy conditions – let’s just say he wasn’t exactly excited. We discussed not going back at all and picking up the MRT from where we were, but that didn’t solve the rainy forecast for the next week or so. Finally, I said to him, “I think of this as mostly your trip, and if you’ve had enough -it’s OK with me. There is no prize money involved -so if you want to stop here, we stop here.” It took him about 2 seconds to say – “I’m done.”
Aside from the weather/situation, there were also things happening at home that needed our attention and some of it was hard to resolve from far away. We had obligations that we thought could wait that it turns out couldn’t. So all things considered, it was a good time to hit the “pause” button and go home and regroup.
We think we might prefer doing the MRT in smaller, more focused sections -perhaps 2-3 weeks at a time – rather than try to bite off the whole thing in one trip. I like the idea of doing it in phases because I think we can better enjoy the places we pass through along the way. I had been feeling like we were starting to rush to get the miles done and were not being in the moment as much as I had imagined we would be. As I told someone in an Email – it was starting to feel like a J.O.B.
I have to take a moment and give credit where credit is due – We owe Laura a huge thank you for her help in making this trip happen. Being a “sag hag” isn’t the most exciting way to spend your days, so we greatly appreciate the fact that Laura was so willing to step up and take time away from her home, family and everyday routine so that she could help us take on the MRT. (And Nicky too -although she didn’t get her turn to sag) THANK YOU Laura!!! We are grateful for your help.
Mike and Laura and I are all fans of the Tour de France and there’s a famous quote by ex-rider, now announcer, Jens Voigt: When my legs hurt, I say: Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do! A few years ago, Laura bought Jane and I a shirt that says: Shut Up Legs! When Mike and I finished the bike/barge trip in the Netherlands a couple of years ago, I had Mike take a picture of me wearing the shirt. I decided it should be a tradition to bring it with me on any bike trip I’m on. Since we are done riding for the time being, I had Laura take my official “Shut Up Legs!” picture.
I’m not sure when we’ll be able to go back to Genoa and pick up where we left off, but I do know that we are looking forward to riding our bikes on the Mississippi River Trail again at some point down the road.
See you then!
Categories: Winona, MN to Genoa, WI