This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pedaling the Upper Mississippi

I grew up near the Mississippi River in Illinois and it has always been a little more to me than most people.  It's a hugely important body of water and we humans seem to have a perverse fascination with looking at water.  This piece is enormous and most of the continent ends up there.  I mean every river, creek, stream and bit of field runoff between the eastern and western divides drains into the Mississippi along with every toilet between Chatanooga and Missoula.  The Great River flushes everything into that great septic service in the gulf where wonderful bottom feeders return it all to us as Peel and Eat Appetizers we wash down with craft brewed beers, natures way of keeping the circle complete.  But I digress. 
One of my first bike trips was one up the river to Savanna Ill and was memorable for the number of eagles in the area.  It makes sense, there are high cliffs in which to nest and a huge supply of fish below.  They like it there.  
The trip started like so many others, I took an Amtrak ride to Winona, Mn and, of course, the train did not have the advertised bike racks.  My poor Hunq was humiliated into standing up behind a trash can the whole way.
We did make our way to Union station in Chicago.  The train to Winona had baggage car accomodations for the Hunq which made us both happy.
I whiled away my time going over the route and sweating blood while looking at the profile.  Those bumps you see are an 80 mile stretch between Prairie Du Chien and Hanover Il.  There are 7, count 'em, 7 catagorized climbs in that stretch.  6 are category 4 and one category 5.  That doesn't count the trip to the campground at Nelson Dewey State Park.  I didn't know that was coming.
Detraining at Winona was a snap.  The Hunq and baggage were delivered to the platform without any muss or fuss.  I loaded up, stopped at Target for some food and headed down the road to find a place to stay.I was wondering how far off route I would have to go in order to reach a State Park

 when BEHOLD (!!) something I have never seen appeared.  
A direction sign to a bicycle specific campground.  I knew I liked Minnesota.
The campground itself is a simple one.  There are 5 designated spots secluded from each other.  A source for water and trash.  The great part is that it is inaccessible to autos and registration is on the honor system.  The world needs to catch up to this idea!
Turning back on the road I "revisited" Hwy 61.  I can't help but wax Dylanesqe over this.
After all it is Hwy 61, it is Minnesota.  For all I know the road leads to his ranch in Northern Minnesota. Much of this route is a well developed bike path.  The highway has huge paved shoulders which also accommodate snowmobiles in the winter.
There are also dedicated bike paths along the river and very impressive bike specific bridges
 to get around the difficult interchanges with other highways.
There are a number of observation decks with binoculars set up for public use and the day was a pleasant sunny 50 miles of mildly rolling terrain.  I crossed the river at LaCrosse and finished the day at the Blackhawk State Park campground.  There were few campers but all the spots were reserved for the upcoming  weekend.  The campgrounds promised to be trailer parks for the holiday.
While I slept, storms rolled in dropping tons of rain on the valley. 
 It kept up in the morning and I slept until nearly noon.
In the afternoon it rained and rained and rained some more.  Severe thunderstorms were coming with  serious lightning so I took a chance on a roadside motel in Ferryville Wi.
I was rewarded with a charming little place, a spectacular view of the river and a unique garden of glass "stuff."  I was lucky.  All to often local motels are the "no tell" motel with paper thin walls which hide none of your neighbor's recreation.  I took refuge, washed my dirty clothes and rubbed elbows with the locals at a bar which had a great basket of wings and fries on sale.
The rain came down like a blanket that night.
I woke to fantastic weather and the hope that I could recover some lost time.  The river is the vehicle for huge barges used to carry iron ore from the Mesabe Mountains in Minnesota.  The enormity of these ships is hard to capture with a cell phone, but they are nearly 1/2 mile long.
The river itself dwarfs them.  That little white sillouette is a barge on the far side of the river from Ferryville.
Inland the hills the river has carved are reminiscent of the Appalachians
with peaks reaching up 1000 feet into a sky often filled with eagles on their daily fishing trips.
Unfortunately the only one I was able to photograph was road kill.  
There's plenty of spots to enlighten the history of the river and I'm always inclined to take a break.  This one explains the logging technique of piling cut trees onto the frozen river all winter, tying them together into huge rafts and letting the river carry them downstream to be sold to sawmills
Others recount the details of skirmishes between natives and settlers attempting to develop towns along the river.
I was greeted outside Prairie Du Chien by Cabela's where I stopped for a moment to pick up a few things.  
The backwaters off the main channel have their own particular beauty and the river was high.
South of Prairie Du Chien, the climbs began.
The reward was great.  Wyalusing State Park has the most remarkable view 
of the convergence between the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers
where Father Marquette first entered the Mississippi 350 years ago.
That must have been quite a little canoe trip he took from St Ignace 
along the Lake Michigan shore into Green Bay and down the Wisconsin.
It was a long day to make up some time and I reached Nelson Dewey State Park.
I was cursing and screaming at the "bonus" climb to the campground which wasn't on the map. 
I wondered what kind of sick, malicious masochistic freak would build  campsite at the end of a 20% grade, until I saw the view.
The hills and views kept on coming.  I haven't had so much "fun" since my last Michigan Mountain Mayhem.  Of course I wasn't carrying 40 pounds of gear that day.  And, it was only one day. Stopping for a rest on these climbs created a particular problem.  Restarting.  If I stopped before my patience would break, I had to restart by going across and down the road.  In my lowest granny gear, I couldn't develop enough momentum uphill to get my second foot on the pedal!  It was like taking a pedal stroke into a wall.  
Little Midwestern towns are always good places to find odd collections.  I have no idea what inspired all this, but somebody thinks it's valuable.   It's fenced in and has an entry gate and designated parking.
Then there was the state bank of Hanover transformed into bar.  
        It was in Hanover (after the hills thank god) that I had my only mechanical issue.  A flat.  Normally no big deal, but I have been using Stan's Sealant for the first time.  I thought that refilling it would be all that was necessary.   Wrong.  The hole was big enough that it didn't seal  Whatever I picked up was mean enough to go through the center tread, kevlar belt an anti puncture strip and leave a hole that Stan's wouldn't seal.  As stupidity would have it, I left my frame pump on another bike for a charity ride before I left.  The CO2 cartridge I had was exhausted and I was left with a new tube and no air.  On any other holiday weekend, on any other road, anywhere else in the world you could easily expect to see another cyclist who might have a mini pump or cartridge.  Not that day. I was walking towards Savanna hoping for the best when a guy in a pickup truck stopped and offered a lift.  His wife had seen me going through Galena earlier in the day and when they saw me walking past their farmhouse they decided I needed help.  As he said later, "There are still people who give a shit."  He took me to Shopko in Savanna where I was able to buy the ONLY pump on the shelf.
       Savanna is a friendly little place and the beginning of a paved trail system which follows the river all the way to the Quad Cities 45 miles south.  It's flat as can be (YEEHAH!!)  I spent the night camping at this wildlife preserve and an idyllic day following the trail.  I am no biologist but it's a overwhelming ecosystem we have.  From the river channel itself to the bluffs surrounding
and marshes in the back water regions
the trail leads a few hundred yards inland to a protected prairie wildlife habitat where multitudes of wildflowers, grasses and even cacti can be found.  There were some odd small towers in the prairie that I thought were cell or wi-fi towers but discovered they were turtle trackers.  Uh Huh.  Somebody is tracking turtle movement in the prairie with expensive looking towers to help. Scary people think of these things.

      The towns along the way obviously support the trail system and the tourism it creates.  The trail leads right into the Illiniwek campground on the river in the Quad Cities on the Illinois side of the river.  It was a easy ride after all the climbing I had endured and I made the best of it.  The last day, I moved away from the river and rode 50 miles to my hometown of Galesburg Il. to catch Amtrak.
The seemingly endless cornfields and rolling hills of central Illinois never looked so refreshing as after all the bluffs surrounding the river.  Easy but hot. The only shade to be found in this ocean of corn and soybeans were the trees in front of farm houses spaced miles apart.
         I got there hot, tired and welcoming a cool shower at the campground.  I had  hoped to spend a day there and look up a couple old friends who live there still, but I only had a few hours in the evening to get cleaned up and go into town, do laundry and enjoy a local delicacy.
It's pig country and every restaurant in the area tries to provide the most extravagant  fried pork tenderloin sandwich.
Hey lookie there, I found the bun.  Normally I wouldn't finish this but 
hunger never stops when you're touring.
Next morning back on the train and headed to the empty streets of Chicago on the 4th of July.
Hanging at Union Station I tried some of the local cuisine.  A genuine Chicago Dog almost satisfies the touring appetite.  Ready for a nap on the train ride back.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this article. Glad the weather cleared for you. Sounds like a really beautiful ride. Thanks