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!

2020 Recap

Want to make Mother Nature laugh? Just tell her your plans! Bicyclists certainly know this adage, and it adds to the adventure of unexpectedness while on two wheels. 2020 was to be leg 3 of my coast-to-coast bicycle trek, but with closed borders and restricted travel, the planned segment from Sioux Falls to Niagara Falls would not happen this year due to the COVID pandemic.

Instead, a visit to Fish Creek Falls near Steamboat Springs served as a beautiful in-state proxy to Niagara Falls as Jackie and I resolved to hike, bike and boat all 42 Colorado State Parks (another multi-year challenge!)

Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat Springs Colorado

I still managed to log 3500 miles in 2020, mostly within a 50 mile radius of home, criss crossing over paths and trails teeming with others seeking outdoor solace. It was great to see so many people using Denver’s fabulous network of multi-use paths. In fact, during the early height of the pandemic, it seemed the motorized roadways were less crowded than parks and bikeways. Kinda eerie, and I actually thought about bicycling down the interstate highway. People walking in the streets rather than sitting in traffic. Crisp air and the blissful sound of singing birds and playing kids. Briefly had me dreaming of a North America with more bikes than cars. Ha!

Mother Nature’s wicked 2020 curve ball put the coast-to-coast challenge on ice. But that’s alright, we’ll just dig in and try again in 2021 – with renewed determination and extra appreciation for the ability to experience America from the seat of a bicycle. Stay tuned for more coast-to-coast adventure!

Sunset on 2020… and a sunrise on 2021

C2C Day 27 – Mitchell to Sioux Falls SD

A tough 71 miles into Sioux Falls to wrap up my 2019 segment of this multi-year coast-to-coast journey. Our planned 7am departure was delayed a couple hours due to heavy thunderstorms, wind, and hail. Not ideal biking weather. The thunderstorms moved out, but the wind remained – a brutal 30 mile per hour headwind, with gusts in the 40s.

A group of us formed into a pace line and took quarter-mile pulls into the ferocious head wind, crawling along at 10 miles per hour. A really tough slog. Slowly, steadily, we inched our way to the halfway point and enjoyed a sheltered lunch in a gas station deli. It was amazingly gratifying to hear sounds other than howling winds. And to be able to communicate by voice.

Fueled and rested, the team set out for the second half and found the going a bit easier. We either had a really good lunch, or the winds were starting to diminish. Maybe a bit of both. Miraculously, the winds vanished around mile 50 and the pace line was now zooming along at a 20 mph clip. What a difference.

At the small town of Hartford, I was warmly greeted by an awesome cheering section on the side of the road – my wife Jackie and mother-in-law Bonnie. It was a quick 10 miles into Sioux Falls from there, and completion of this 2 week segment.

A spectacular two weeks of riding – from the Tetons of Wyoming to the Badlands of South Dakota. Staying in small towns like DuBois, Lusk, Wall, and Murdo. Meeting new friends and sharing the spirit of adventure. Part of me wants to keep riding, and another part says it’s a good time to stop and save up for next year.

So let’s do it again next year! If all goes as planned, 2020 will be a two week ride from Sioux Falls to Niagara Falls. Thanks for following the blog, and stay tuned for more.

~Dan

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