C2C Day 36 Madison to Milwaukee WI

Lake Michigan

I cycled thru the rain until I came upon a huge lake, and determined I could cycle no more. At least in an eastward direction. So Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shoreline is the terminus for this year’s coast-to-coast adventure.

Today started in Madison with threatening skies. A 50% chance of thunderstorms.

Madison is a great cycling city, with many off-street paths and folks enjoying some outdoor recreation. It’s also a booming city with active construction. Perhaps there is a correlation with outdoor lifestyle and city desirability? Being a college town (University of Wisconsin) might also be an attractor.

Bike Path in Madison

Eventually, I made it to Cottage Grove and the start of the 52-mile Glacial Drumlin Trail, named after a geologic landform very common in the area.

Start of the 52 mile Glacial Drumlin trail

Yet another great Wisconsin state trail, devoid of vehicle traffic and loaded with straight-line scenic bridges – crossing over the meandering Koshkonong creek numerous times.

Koshkonong Creek, along the G-T trail

The trail eventually passes right along Rock Lake and a nice sandy beach, smartly named ‘Sandy Beach’, where Jackie busted out the paddle board again. We were so far dodging those forecasted thunderstorms, getting some good paddling and cycling in.

Jackie prepping for paddle boarding at Sandy Beach
Jax joining me on the trail for a spin

And then came the rains. At mile 50, the 50-50 chance turned to 100%, turning into a dousing at the village of Dousman (coincidence?). Then some more trail magic… just as the gravel path started to get slick and muddy, it miraculously turned to pavement. And then, seeking shelter from a heavy downpour, the trailside building (and former rail depot) in Dousman turned out to be a bike shop – called the ‘Bicycle Doctor’. After a brief rest (and a cool bike jersey) from the Doctor, it was back on the trail in a light but steady rain.

Hank Aaron State Trail, Milwaukee

On the outskirts of Milwaukee, I came upon the Hank Aaron state trail. A quick side-story: My Dad visited Wisconsin as a kid and watched a Milwaukee Braves game. At that game in 1954, he got a signed baseball from the entire Braves team – including a signature from a young, upstart rookie by the name of Henry Aaron. ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ would have a hall-of-fame career, breaking the major league record for home runs and setting several hitting records that still stand today. Aaron, who passed away in January 2021, was a man of integrity who broke down many racial barriers and fostered goodwill throughout his celebrated career and life. That trail ride was for you, Dad.

Menomonee River, downtown Milwaukee

That wraps up the 2021 segment of this coast-to-coast journey. 650 miles from Sioux Falls to Milwaukee, across the farms and lakes of southern Minnesota, and the trails and towns of Wisconsin – with my favorite Trail Angel Jackie providing support and encouragement. A memorable trip for sure, and looking forward to more.

~Dan

C2C Day 35 Elroy to Madison WI

Water stop, courtesy of a ‘Trail Angel’

A cool, misty 55 degrees at the starting point of Elroy. Hopped on the ‘400’ trail for 22 miles to the town of Reedsburg. The ‘400’ state trail is named after the former Chicago-to-Minneapolis passenger train that ran this rail line, boasting a 400 mile trip in 400 minutes, at times hiting 100 mph. Today, it’s a 90 minute flight. The 400 marked the last leg of the ‘Wisconsin 101’ – 4 interconnected trails running 101 miles from Marshland to Reedsburg. Whew! Some wildlife spotted on the State Trails included: Bunnies, Birds, Butterflies, Bald Eagles, Brown Deer, Black Squirrels (maybe more greyish, but fits the ‘B’ theme), Bugs, and a Badger. Plus chipmunks. All alive! (as opposed to roadkill animals found on vehicle roads). Stopped briefly at a homemade water stop, courtesy of what long-distance trail riders like to call a ‘Trail Angel’.

Hillsboro Trail spur

The 400 trail had a few spur trails, including this one to Hillsboro. I thought about stopping in at Beezers, but it was a bit too early for a cocktail. These state trails would also be beautiful in winter for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.

Having run out of trails, I had to hop on some county farm roads to make my way southward towards Madison. Wisconsin county roads are lettered rather than numbered… at least in these parts:

From KP, take a left on V

Very little traffic on these winding, windy and surprisingly hilly farm roads. And a bit of humor:

Best mailbox of the day

A brief rain storm in Sauk City. Thankfully I sheltered at a nice park alongside the Wisconsin River, when along came another trail angel – Jackie delivering lunch! Just the ticket for the remaining 30 miles into a headwind. Back on the trail towards the town of Springfield, when a nice looking bench offered a brief respite:

Temporary resting spot

Then into the sprawling town of Madison, and some popular tails along Lake Mendota. A pleasant 72 degrees on arrival, just a bit windy is all. We’ve got a beautiful view right outside the window as I write this.

View from Mendota Lake House Inn

Tomorrow will be the final leg of this year’s tour. Seems like we just started!

C2C Day 34 Trempealeau to Elroy WI

Great River Trail

A chilly 50 degree start had me donning a jacket this morning as I headed out of Trempealeau on the Great River Trail. Caught a pic of a huge catfish on the way out of town, looks like we’ll have to come back in July for the festival.

20 miles down river, then an eastward turn on the Lacrosse River Trail for another 20 miles or so towards where I met up with Jackie, who parked in Sparta and cycled out to meet me, then back. Great to bike with my favorite cyclist on a trail built for two.

LaCross River Trail
Sparta’s Ben Bikin

Sparta Wisconsin is the self-proclaimed ‘Bicycling Capital of America’, and they have a large statue of ‘Ben Bikin’ to help substantiate that lofty claim. Sparta is the trailhead of the Sparta-Elroy trail, the nations first ‘Rails-to-Trails’ recreational conversion project – completed in 1967 and serving as a model for hundreds of other similar projects around the country. Sparta-Elroy is a legendary 32 mile trail through rolling hills and featuring 3 tunnels.

1st Tunnel, Sparta Elroy Trail

The first tunnel is the longest, measuring over 3,800 feet or 3/4 of a mile. This one was cold and literally dripping wet. A headlight is essential, and the trail is too dark and slippery to ride – so walking your bike thru is a smart option.

Helps to have a headlight in here!

Tunnel #2 is the shortest, but still headlight and hike worthy. I met a group of Wisconsin cyclists here and we traded stories and photos.

Tunnel #2

And after one more tunnel, a downhill cruise to the trail terminus of Elroy for tonight’s stay. 74 miles total, mostly 60s and low 70s (quite a bit cooler in those tunnels!) made for a very pleasant and enjoyable ride across three of Wisconsin’s finest state trails. A few more trails tomorrow on a roll into Madison. Adios for now.

3rd and final tunnel. That white dot is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

C2C Day 33 Red Wing MN to Trempealeau WI

A brisk 55 degrees at departure time today, with a cool breeze out of the Northwest. Received some helpful directions from a local rider who happened to be riding around town – “if you can keep up with an old lady, I’ll show you the best way to the state bridge” – well, I could keep up with her speed wise, but she lapped me several times when it came to talking. After hearing about all the nearby trails, why she lives in Red Wing (closer to grandkids), and how her husband sleeps in while she rides in the morning – I made it to the bridge with one parting piece of advice: “Minnesota drivers will slow down for you, Wisconsin drivers won’t”. I’d put her adage to the test after crossing over the Mississippi and into Wisconsin.

Checking out of the St. James Hotel

Cruising down Wisconsin’s Great River Road, the morning scenery was stunning. William Cullen Bryant boasted the area “ought to be visited in the summer by every poet and painter in the land”. Hard to argue with that. An early stop at the small town of Maiden Rock introduced us to a wide berth of the Mississippi called Lake Pepin, formed by the Chippewa River dumping sediment into the river and forming a natural dam.

My fellow metal heads will appreciate this.

Jackie took the opportunity to break out the paddle board and ride the Great River.

Jackie paddle boarding on Mississippi River’s Lake Pepin
Wisconsin 35 – Great River Road
Best sign of the day

Winds picked up as the day wore on, about 15mph NW, which equated to a fabulous tail wind into the picturesque riverside town of Trempealeau and the quaint Little Bluff Inn – our stay for the evening.

Trempealeau, Wisconsin

80 miles total today, averaging a swift 17.4 mph. Oh, and as forewarned, Wisconsin drivers on the road today did not slow down much – but with a nice wide shoulder, smooth roads, few cars, and a glorious tailwind, I was having too much fun to really notice.

Tomorrow will be a totally car-free ride on State Trails for about 72 miles to the tiny hamlet of Elroy. Bye for now.

C2C Day 32 Red Wing MN

Red Wing Rain

A rest day means a perfect day for rain. Total miles biked today: 0. Which also means some time for exploring the town of Red Wing.

Big Shoe

Red Wing is, rather appropriately, the home of Red Wing Shoes, and a cool little museum/store that chronicles the history of the company and it’s relationship with the town.

Memorial Park Bluff overlooking Red Wing

A couple of bluffs overlook the town and a winding Mississippi river.

#1 Tee

In between rain storms, some time for a friendly round of Disc Golf. Really fun course on top of one of the bluffs.

Birdie putt
Mississippi River

And finally, a stroll along the river in celebration of our 29th Anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Babes!

Hopefully the last of the storms are rolling through, and it’ll be a dry ride into Wisconsin tomorrow.

C2C Day 31 Mankato To Red Wing MN

Reconciliation Park

Today’s ride began with a stop at Reconciliation Park in Mankato, a sacred parcel of land near the site where 38 Dakota Warriors were executed during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 – the largest mass execution in U.S. History. The poignant park lists the names of those lost, features a spiritual buffalo statue, and tries to both teach and amend the clash of cultures through a powerful phrase: Forgive Everyone Everything

Starting point of the 43 mile Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail

Just a bit North of Mankato is the trail head for the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail. Sakatah is a Dakota-Wahpekita tribe word for ‘Singing Hills’ – so the trail literally translates to ‘Singing Hills Singing Hills’ – which is very apt, with chirping birds, humming dragon-flies, scurrying chipmunks, and singing recreationalists lining the route. A former rail line connecting Mankato and the Minnesota River with the town of Red Wing and the Mississippi River, about 95 miles distant. Teeming with trees, the converted Rails-to-Trails line elicits spontaneous bouts of Singing from those on the path!

Jackie joining for some riding near the trail town of Elysian

Jax parked the car at an old rail stop building midway along the trail in Elysian and joined the trail for several miles, doubling back to fetch the car. We were tempted to leave the car behind, but figured it might prove useful for the rest of the trip. Alas, the Sakatah trail came to an end at the town of Faribault, but a few low-travelled and wide-shouldered roads led to a reconnection of the rail-trail line, now called the Mill Towns State Trail.

Mill Towns State Trail, Dundas MN

Owing to advanced milling equipment devised and implemented in this area, Milled Minnesota Flour became a popular commodity in the late 1800’s and brought fame to this valley. Rail cars served the river-powered mills and brought enterprising settlers into central Minnesota. The mills eventually burned down, but the history remains.

Cannon River

From the town of Cannon Falls, the Cannon Valley Trail offered another beautiful car-free corridor towards today’s destination of Red Wing. 20 miles of down-river and down-wind bliss, complete with rest-stops.

Cannon Valley Trail Rest Stop

And then, the Mississippi River town of Red Wing – home of Red Wing Shoes. 97 total miles, the vast majority on well maintained paved trails. What a great ride…

Mississippi River at Red Wing MN

Celebration

… and a great celebration at the end of the day! Tomorrow is a rest day as Jackie and I celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. See ya.

C2C Day 30 Worthington MN to Mankato MN

Red Jacket Trail, Mankato MN

“Oooh, you’ve got a ways to go then” said the heavyset man in a thick Minnesota accent upon hearing of my intended destination this day. The man was cruising along in the early morning stillness on a three-wheel bicycle (an adult tricycle, maybe?) in the small town of Heron Lake. I slowed to his leisurely pace of about 6 mph and struck up a conversation, as fellow long-distance cyclists tend to do. “I’m heading to Shaffer’s Crossing where I’ll turn around and head back”, he joyfully replied when I asked where he was headed. I’ve no idea where that is, but I’m sure he eventually got there and happily returned, waving to local townsfolk along the way. Further proof that it’s not how far or fast you go, but to enjoy the ride.

Routine bike maintenance, Heron Lake MN

The big man on three wheels was absolutely correct – it was a ways to Mankato. 110 miles total. 66 degrees to start, 91 at the finish. Light winds (thankfully) throughout, except when I found myself in the middle of a huge wind farm – I guess they know to put those big turbines in wind-prone areas!

City Square, Windom MN

A nice and shady town square in Windom served as a good place to refuel after about 30 miles. Jax visited the local library housed in a grandiose building that formerly served as a bank. A lot of farmland, and small farm towns, and friendly folks wondering what we were up to… and offering up advice on detours. Summer is construction season in Minnesota, which caused a few extra bonus miles.

A Rural Bike Lane! Watonwan County MN

An unexpected ‘rural road bike lane’ offered a wonderfully wide shoulder and designated bikeway between the towns of St. James and Madelia, courtesy of the WATonwan COunty Trail System. A thank you and shout out to WATCOTS.

Mount Kato Ski Area, Mankato MN.

Approaching Mankato, the terrain turned from flat farmland to hilly treelined river valleys. Some might even say mountainous? Witness Mount Kato (a cleaver take on ManKato) – which looks to be a wonderful winter ski area, with at least 3 lifts. But I’m not sure I’d call it a mountain. Steep hill, maybe. It’s nestled along a stunningly beautiful path called the Red Jacket Trail. After 100 miles of farmland, the tree-lined recreation path (converted from a former railway) felt like a totally different world with singing birds, prancing deer… and free-range chickens (no kidding, perhaps they escaped from one of the nearby farms!).

Red Jacket Trail, Mankato MN

More Rails-to-Trails tomorrow on the way to Red Wing, Minnesota. Looking forward to it!

C2C Day 29 Sioux Falls SD to Worthington MN

Sioux Falls Greenway

66 degrees at the start of todays ride, 91 at the finish. 74 miles, mostly into a stiff 10-15 mph wind. An inspiring start through the Sioux Falls Greenway which was teeming with joggers, walkers, strollers, young men’s and women’s running teams, and at least one crazy cyclist peddling across the country. Cruising out of the city, I wound down to a farm road that runs right along a borderline – Iowa on my right, South Dakota on my left. Then, about 20 miles out of town, I came upon a geographical point of interest:

A stone and iron monument marking the corner of South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Erected before South Dakota was a state (‘Dakota Territory’), the 1859 iron piling is rusty and the stone base is cracked an chipped – but it has somehow survived weather, vandalism, and vehicles – restored to it’s current splendor in 1980. Fun factoid: you may know that the US has one 4-corner spot (CO-UT-NM-AZ), but did you know there are 61 Three-Corner spots across the country? Of these, 38 are on dry land while the remainder are in rivers or lakes where no marker can be placed. So… I can now proudly claim to have visited one of the thrilling three-corner markers. Ha!

Main Street, Luverne Minnesota

Having survived the throng of crowds and traffic at the three-corner marker, I made my way to the lovely town of Luverne Minnesota – and low and behold, on main street, I came across something ever rarer than a three-corner monument… a Domagala Billboard! I stopped to snap a photo of the glorious signage, and then went in to meet this fellow Domagala.

Nicholas and Dan Domagala

Nicholas grew up in Luverne, played hockey (as most boys do when growing up in Minnesota), and now coaches youth teams (he’s got 4 kids). We tried to trace back our Domagala roots, but neither of us are very tuned into our genealogy. Nick’s grandfather lived in South Dakota, mine was born in North Dakota – so there is likely a connection somewhere upstream as the Domagala name is not very prevalent in the U.S. We exchanged contact info and I promised Nicholas a beer if he someday makes it to Denver for a hockey tournament.

After the excitement in Luverne, it was a steady headwind roll into our destination town of Worthington. Jackie smartly skipped the town-to-town riding (providing awesome support!) and instead took a 6 mile stroll around Worthington’s Lake Okabena. Lined with parks, paths, and some nice lakefront homes, Okabena is a wonderful city lake. And not content with merely riding AROUND the lake, Jax pumped up the paddleboard and rode ON the lake. Way to go, Babe!

Jackie on Lake Okabena…
…And swapping from bike to paddle board!

We’ll enjoy an evening in Worthington, and get plenty of rest for tomorrow’s 105 mile ride to Mankato. Let’s hope for favorable winds!

C2C Day 28 – Sioux Falls Loop

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

And we are back! Starting off from exactly where my Coast-to-Coast wrapped up in 2019 – the Club House Hotel in Sioux Falls South Dakota. The hotel is steps away from a great bike path that circles the city, connecting beautiful parks and meandering along the Big Sioux River. The highlight of the loop is Sioux Falls. I’m not sure which came first, the falls or the city – but there is certainly a strong Sioux theme here, honoring the former inhabitants, at least namesake-wise. Some animals spotted along the trail: a deer and two fawns, rabbits, cranes, red-wing black birds, bison, and zebras. Ok, the bison and zebras were in a zoo along the trail, but still spotted!

The falls are running a bit low this year

Unlike 2019, when rivers were running very high and farms were inundated with water, 2021 looks to be relatively drier, at least here at the falls. Or maybe the maintenance staff forgot to turn up the flow today. Or, perhaps the 90+ degree heat and 20+ mph wind simply dried up the Big Sioux, just like it dehydrated us bike riders.

Jackie on the bike path

Jackie rode along for the full 22 miles today, and she will be providing support and encouragement for this 2021 segment. One car, two bikes, and a cooler full of Gatorade. The touring company (America by Bicycle), with whom I rode with in 2018 and 2019, was not able to assemble a tour together this year due to COVID restrictions in Canada. Instead, I get first-class touring experience with Jax Inc!

Stay tuned for more tales from the road…

2021 Training Update

Rio Grand Rail-Trail near Carbondale Colorado

Colorado’s Roaring Fork river valley served as the culminating highlight of 2021 training rides. A converted railroad line provides a spectacular 42 mile car-free trail between Glenwood Springs and Aspen Colorado. Riding the trail back-and-forth, plus an 18 mile jaunt to Snowmass ski resort makes for breathtakingly scenic century ride. An absolutely perfect way to train for this year’s continuation of my coast-to-coast challenge, which will feature several Rails-to-Trails rides thru Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Trail bridge over the Roaring Fork river

Aside from the scenery, a very alluring sign appeared at mile 90. Almost like a message from heaven…

A sign from heaven?

Of course I stopped in for a pint, figuring it was fairly well deserved. And free cold water to boot! The friendly barkeep (and trusty bar-dog assistant) at Ball Brewery served up a delicious cream ale that helped power me to my starting point of Carbondale and a family rendezvous. This ride, along with about 1400 miles of 2021 biking, should be good prep for more cross-county travel by bike. Next up, Sioux Falls!

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