…”After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” -Nelson Mandela
Around where the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi, just a few miles South of Prairie du Chien is where we entered the main part of the “Driftless Area”. This large area covers parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois along the river. The Driftless is known for steep hillsides, narrow valleys and a general unevenness. This area wasn’t directly covered or re-contoured by glaciers in the last ice age; but when the glaciers melted along the edges of it, the massive flooding created erosion of the rocks below ground, leaving plateaus along the bluff tops that are carved up by many rivers and streams all flowing down to the Mississippi.
Here is the elevation profile for today’s ride: We climbed a total of 1,768 feet, all hills combined. The elevation chart makes the hills look straight up and down -it isn’t quite that bad, but it does look dramatic!
Not far from the hotel, we passed the intersection connecting to the bridge over the river that we’d been on the night before. There is a small park there with a statue of Pere Marquette. In 1673, Pere Marquette was given leave to join Joliet’s expedition in search of a big trading river that Native American Indians at a mission on Lake Superior had told Marquette about. The expedition left Saint Ignace (in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and at Green Bay, Wisconsin they followed the Fox River upstream where at some point local natives gave them the location of a portage to the Wisconsin River. They paddled down the Wisconsin River and it was at the confluence of the Wisconsin River and Mississippi Rivers (just a few miles South of Prairie du Chien) that the expedition became the first white men to see the upper Mississippi River.
It took about 8 miles of riding before we were on the far outskirts of Prairie du Chien. As we crossed the bridge over the Wisconsin river, I was thinking about how different it looks when you paddle under it -as our paddle group did several years ago.
Right after the bridge, we made a right turn and the fun began. At first the road seemed innocent enough. I snapped a picture as it was pretty -more woodsy than river-y. Another turn and we were faced with a hill that went up and up for over a mile! It was amazing to do on the new bike. It was still work to get up the hill, but without the bike I would have ended up walking some of it. Part of it had a 7% grade, which is pretty steep -especially on a bike. It was like the never-ending hill. We stopped at the top for our first break. The road continued along the top for awhile, but our reward came after a few miles when we started a descent back into the valley that was nothing but downhill (gently, not straight down) that lasted more than 2 miles! We earned it for sure!
This picture was taken when we were almost all the way down. We were originally up as high as the top of this rock outcropping.
Basically today was Mother Nature’s version of a roller coaster for 40 miles. Between climbing and trying to control our speed going back down, my camera didn’t come out as much as it might have. I pretty much was hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. (It wasn’t that bad, but my attention needed to be on riding through there.
Our second break came in a small village called Bagley at the Bagley Mini Mart. That was pretty much our only good stop the whole day. You know how you sometimes have to get the key to the bathroom at service stations? We had to get a key for the porta potty! HA HA.
Not far outside of Bagley, we went up again. The distance up that hill was 1.5 miles! It wasn’t as steep as the first one, but it was longer. Once we were back up on the plateau above the river (although we couldn’t see the river) we stayed up there for quite a few miles where if we weren’t going up, we were going down. At least those hills were moderate ones. It was windy up there too. The area that we passed through was all farms/farmland.
Our third break was along the road on the plateau because we didn’t see anything but farms between Bagley and Cassville. After about 12 miles up on the plateau, we began our second long downhill. This one was about two miles down and quite curvy.
We rested a bit enjoying the breeze and the river. Cassville is the location of one of a handful of car ferries still operating on the Mississippi. I really wanted to take it across just to say I did -but because it was later in the summer, it was only running on weekends.
We had a good lunch. I told Mike to turn his plate to hide the bite he’d already taken, but he said he wanted me to take this picture. (He’s not fond of food photos in general, so probably thought he was doing his part by thwarting my food photography efforts.)Nicky wanted to play with pull tabs.
She even won some of her money back.
There are a couple of hotels in Cassville, but they weren’t quite right for our travelling circus, so I booked a hotel about 20 miles away in a town called Lancaster.
Of course the fates weren’t going to make the drive easy or anything. The most direct road had signs mentioning a detour ahead, but not anything else helpful for people not from the area -so we went for it…until we arrived at the small bridge over the small river that was being redone. After a bit of twisting and turning, we finally were able to get to Lancaster and check in. Dinner that night was a randomly chosen Mexican restaurant where the food was good enough and Nicky caused a scene by spilling her nearly full drink all over. (She said I could blab about it).
Lancaster was a nice town. I liked this old insert in the wall along Main Street.