Cassville, WI to Galena, IL – 43.5 Miles

…”It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them”.   -Ernest Hemingway

Whoever wrote the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” obviously never rode their bike through the Driftless Region!  (I don’t even want to think about biking over real mountains!)

We climbed a total of 2,251 feet -but did get some “whee” downhills for our trouble.  My max speed downhill today (even with using my brakes) was 32.23. 

This is the elevation map from our GPS’s.  It makes the hills/downhills look straight up and down.  They weren’t, but it gives an idea of the ups and downs we were facing today.

Our trip in the car back to Cassville by car in the morning was a bit easier since we were now “locals” and knew to take a different way back from Lancaster to avoid the detour.

When we have to shuttle back from a hotel, there’s a bit of fiddle-faddle where we have to unload the bikes, get them of set up and make sure we have what we need for the day. When we were ready to leave, Nicky took our daily departure picture.

And…we were off…for about 15 seconds.  Rock, paper, bike, train -train wins!

We told Nicky we would meet her in the next town ahead: Potosi.  When we’d scouted this part of the trip a few years ago, our friend Jim had taken us to the Potosi Brewery. I thought Nicky would like to see it, and it was convenient for a quick stop since we were riding right by it anyway.

Nicky grabbed a photo of us as she passed us on the way to Potosi.

 The Potosi Brewing Company was founded in 1852 and lasted until 1972 before closing their doors.  In 2008, the company was revived at the original location.  There is a nice restaurant/pub, a museum and a display relating to the various ways beer was delivered back in the day -including a steamboat!

Right inside the door is this window in the floor.  It was hard to photograph, but it is a natural spring flowing under the building.

This was the original beer cave, which kept the product cool.

The beer delivering steamboat from days of old.

Outside they have this pretty patio.

There was a small pool next to the rocks at the back of the patio (and Brewery) with fish in it.

Potosi’s other claim to fame is that they have the longest Main Street without an intersection -3 miles long without any side streets!

Actually the MRT route doesn’t go into the town of Potosi; it continues along the river.  As I was setting up today’s route on the computer (to be downloaded to our bike GPS’s), Mike was quite adamant that he didn’t want to follow the official MRT route after Potosi.  That’s because he especially remembered the hilly topography we’d seen between Potosi and the next larger town, Dickeyville, and he didn’t want to take it on…even with the new bikes.  

The MRT route is basically designed to take riders along lesser used roads, bike paths or roads with good shoulders.  Often the route will wander around a bit more than necessary to take riders to or near many of the state parks, recreation areas, and points of interest along the way.  Our motto today was “Heck with that!” 

Mike suggested just going through the village of Potosi and ride along Highway 61 to Dickeyville -about 5 miles further down the road.  It did shorten the mileage a bit, but it also put us on a much busier road with narrower shoulders.  Even so, we were happy with the decision.  It was still somewhat hilly, but if we’d stayed with the official route, our total climbing for the day would have been around 3,000 feet instead of 2,251.

Dickeyville’s famous point of interest is the Dickeyville Grotto.  We’d passed by it once years ago on our way to one of the paddling trips we did on the Mississippi, but didn’t stop.  There was no excuse not to today -we rode right by it!  The Grotto and Shrines are found at the Holy Ghost Church.  Most of it was built between 1925 and 1930 under the guidance of Father Matthias Wernerus, who served the parish from 1918 until he passed away in 1931.

 Evidently grotto building was a “thing” in the US in the early 1900’s.  Father Wenerus thought that the Dickeyville Grotto would become the biggest pilgrimage site in the USA, but was also worried that it would become too commercialized.  The church has managed to keep a lid on things.  It is decorated with a wide variety of materials, including shells, stones, tile, wood, glass, gems and geodes -much of which was donated by local parishioners. 

There was the main “grotto” by the road, a garden behind it, and another area that was added at some point later that is called the patriotism shrine. The patriotism shrine includes nods to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus. (And as you see below -an eagle is given a prominent place in the shrine.)

After Dickeyville, we still had about 20 miles to go to get to our hotel in Galena, IL.  The official MRT route delivers the riders to downtown Galena. Since we’d already deviated from the official route and our hotel was on the outskirts of Galena, I mapped the most direct route I could between Dickeyville and the hotel without using busy highways.  The route turned out fine, but we did not avoid hills.

We rode along some really quiet back roads.  At one point we caught up to a group of bike riders.

We were surprised that they were spread almost all the way across the road, riding side by side.  We feel like it is safer to ride single file -even on a road with little traffic.

Another break in the middle of nowhere.

We’d climbed a couple of big hills already, but the GPS was displaying the news that there was still one more hill ahead just before Galena… and boy was it a hill!!  We had been riding up on the plateau for several miles and then the road decided it was time for a pretty steep, curvy, downhill.  The road was off the beaten path enough to be not especially well paved. It was narrow and bumpy with a stingy gravel shoulder. 

We went down the hill with a death grip on our brakes since the pavement conditions made us nervous about riding too fast.  Just as we were about halfway down, a group of motorcycles caught up to us from behind. I wondered…What the heck are they doing out here in the middle of nowhere?  (They probably wondered what we were doing out there!) Fortunately, the motorcycles were quite careful and patient about passing us.  The last motorcycle passed us at the bottom in a short, flat area before the uphill fun began.  He slowed down as he got even with me and called out… “Didn’t think you’d see a traffic jam back in here did you?” Nope!  They all zoomed off up the waiting hill, while we staunchly (and with the help of the highest power setting) made our own way to the top.

We popped out onto a stretch of busy highway just outside of Galena.  We were glad we only had to ride along that road for a mile or so because there was no shoulder at all and plenty of traffic.  We were very happy to see the turn into our hotel.

This was the first time on the trip that we decided we wanted to take advantage of the pool/hot tub at the hotel.  It was the perfect day for it.  After that, once we got ourselves showered and sorted out, we headed into Galena to find dinner.

Galena is a fun tourist destination in Western Illinois that had its beginnings in the early 1800’s, although the Native Americans and early explorers were certainly in the area years before that. Galena is situated on the Galena River and is about three miles East of the Mississippi River (as the crow flies).  In the early years, they were able to sail steamboats up the river right to S. Main Street.  Now, the river is too low for that.

This is a picture of Dowling House, which is the oldest building in Galena (now a museum).  It was built in 1826 as a trading post.

The town’s growth over the early years was based on lead mining in the area.  When the demand for lead dropped in the early 1900’s, the population fell dramatically and the town limped along in obscurity for years.  

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the town’s mayor started a tourism campaign that seems to have worked out quite well.  The main street -over 1/2 mile long- was still lined by the original 1800’s buildings.  Now, 125+ stores and restaurants await visitors in the mood to shop and eat. There are other historic points of interest around town too.

Galena also touts itself as the home of President Grant.  Ulysses S. Grant moved his family to Galena in 1860 to join his father and brothers who were operating a leather goods store there.  He was only in Galena for about a year when Fort Sumpter was fired upon in 1861.  Within a week, he’d left Galena to re-join the Army and fight in the Civil War.

We didn’t get to main street until rather late in the day, so we didn’t have much time to wander through the stores, much to my disappointment.  We chose a restaurant called Durty Gurt’s which was a fun little place with an attitude.

They had a large selection of malts and shakes -versions to make both adults and kids happy.  Nicky took the adult option!

After dinner the stores were starting to close, but we did manage to squeak into a few.  I bought some popcorn at one.  Nicky bought some crazy socks at another.

After dinner and our walk through whatever stores hadn’t locked up yet, we went back to the hotel to prepare for the next day of riding.

Categories: Cassville WI to Galena IL, MRT Bike Trip 2018 & 2022

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