Song of the day: Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with Peggy Lee- We’ll Meet Again.
I rode off from La Cresent with a set of hand-written cue sheets that host Knute had drawn up as an alternate route that would get me back on the less-hilly road beyond the construction. Other notes suggested a scenic ride Judy suggested on the Wisconsin side of the river, which they both thought had much better views, plus it had a great place to get ice cream. At my first intersection, I was considering the directions to go down a steep looking hill, when from behind, a lightly tattooed young man in an stylish black kit on an ultra-light racing bike, pulled up and asked if I needed help. Justin saw me considering turning down the road to the right, but counseled that it was a twisty category 3 climb (I looked it up after he rode off) that might be dangerous with my heavy load, and that there was more traffic at the bottom. He suggested I go left, where a freshly paved road and a Kwik Trip were ahead. He said he’d already busted out 80 miles on his carbon bike by 11am and lived just around the corner, so I took his advice, which kept me on the ACA route anyway. I’d already been spared one hill, so what were a few more?
After a while, I swung over off the route in MN to WI, which ended up being a theme for the next couple of days, my trail zigzagging between the two states based on scenic ratings and free camping availability. Knute and Judy had confirmed that the bridges I’d be on weren’t treacherous steel grate ones, although there were some of those around as an attempt to deal with the mayfly problem. My hosts informed me that when the mayflies emerge from the river to mate, they die shortly thereafter, their carcasses littering the roadways so densely that sometimes they pile up inches high, and snowplows have been employed to clear the roads of the dead bugs. So steel grate bridges mean the bugs fall through intead of heaping up and causing car accidents. They were totally not making that up.
Anyway, I had been waiting for so many states to use the That 70s Show theme song clip coz I’m dorky like that:
The Wisconsin side was certainly beautiful, and I zipped along the flat road, pulling an easy but hot 70 miles, spotting some huge rock faces in the bluffs and even stopping to take time to call my mom and check some emails. Before we crossed the bridge back into the MN side for the night, we stopped for ice cream and cheese at the sweet local place suggested by my hosts. Tunes got vanilla, and I got mint chocolate chip.
Across the bridge in Wabasha, MN, the map had suggested we could free camp in the city park, but Adventure Cycling had mislabled it Beaver Park instead of Beach Park, so we finally called the local PD who told us what the deal was. It was such a great site! With a cute little sandy beach alongside the riverbank, a clean, grassy park with a couple of covered pavilions next to a busy boat marina was home for the night. The city had also provided a public bathroom adjacent to the park that had a shower! And it was clean and the water was warm! Nicest of all, Tunes and I sat and watched the sunset downriver before curling up for the night.
I took some time to write in the morning and talked to a few people who were curious about my trip, enjoying a languid start before crossing the bridge back into WI for more sightseeing. About mid-afternoon, I saw a cyclist with a familiar jersey….. and lo and behold, it was the Bike and Build crew again! I’d first met them on our way to Bowling Green, Ohio, and though we weren’t following the exact same route, It was serendipitous to run into them again. It seemed I’d left somewhat of an impression on some these 24 cyclists, and part of the group encouraged me to come over and get some free snacks and treats from their van (thanks again, y’all). They were crashing at a church in Pepin, WI, but I was still hoping to move it another 20-30 miles up some 400′ climbs to a tree nursery that permitted free camping. I ate and ran, having enjoyed their company for a little while, with still more work ahead and less daylight.
Along the way, I met a group of three self-supported touring cyclists in their 50s on some sort of recumbent-like bikes at a gas station rest stop. They were going the opposite way, riding the Mississippi River Trail, and we swapped road stories for a little while. One of the women in the group was fully covered, head-to-toe, in sun-protective bike wear, including a loose neck and face cover. “I want to keep doing this forever,” she said, “and not get all sunburned and wrinkled and look old.” I considered my own seriously over-tanned legs, mid-thigh to ankle, and the deepening smile lines around my mouth, abundance of freckles and moles, and even the hint of a sunspot. I greased on another layer of sunscreen and pressed on.
The last climb before the nursery was actually fun. I’d been listening to another audio book about the late Peace Pilgrim, a woman from New Jersey who I’d heard about on NPR a while back, and had been reminded of her by my recent host Mike. She was a non-denominational activist who walked for 28 years, and was also the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in one season. I’d thought of her when I met a peppy tween in Colesburg, IA who told me, “It’s probably really crazy, probably impossible, but I want to hike the Appalachian Trail someday.” I countered immediately, “Oh no, that’s not impossible at all, and if youreally want to do it, I believe youcould find a way. Impossible is nothing,” I said as encouragingly as possible, throwing in a Muhammad Ali quote my dad has on a poster at his place in CT.
She walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying in her blue tunic her only possessions. She crossed America for nearly three decades, bearing the simplest of messages: This is the way of peace–Overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.
Peace Pilgrim talked about peace among nations, between people, and the most important Inner Peace.
Penniless, walking with no organizational backing, Peace Pilgrim touched the lives and hearts of countless thousands of Americans. Some were charmed by her simple but cheerful presence; many others were profoundly inspired by her message and her lifestyle.
While it was deeply inspirational to listen to her story, I was ready to change gears and listen to some motivational music for the last climbs and to drown out the throngs of weekend motorcyclists who were roaring by me, two-wide and many long. Just as I started ascending, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody came on, a goofy favorite I liked to sing with my boss and her family when we felt silly. Keeping my breathing going, I belted it out in impressively bad falsetto while still getting enough air to keep going. The length of the song was just a little shy of the length of my climb, with its sprawling musical denouement timed just about perfectly with my own summit sighting. Perfection, Freddie Mercury!
At the nursery, the owner told me I could pitch the tent anywhere but recommended the spruce tree maze, which sounded like fun. I ate the bagel Bike n Build had given me, with peanut butter and jelly and bananas and a packet of honey that dripped off and stuck to everything, and charged my phone and devices. For her part, Tunes ran around in happy circles, zooming around their cute wooden playground, weaving around fences, and chasing the squeaker toy. We’d lost another tennis ball along the way, but I was sure we’d come by another one before too long. After dusk, I put my headlamp on and Tunes followed me as I ventured into the maze, but the sign said it would take about 30 minutes to complete, and I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the spine to go all the way through. It had been decorated for Halloween still, and the big fake cobwebs kind of gave me the creeps. I listened to some fun local radio for a little bit, had a garden hose shower, and fell fast asleep under a clear, starry sky.
The owner of Nesbitt’s Nursery came by in the morning, and he shared that he was a cyclist, and so we shot the breeze for a while as I packed up my gear and let my dewy tent dry in the sharp morning sun. I’d just gotten an exciting confirmation that I had the green light to make a special diversion off route and into Minneapolis. Last year at the very end of my TransAm/West Coast ride, I happened to run into a festively-costumed couple headed to a superhero party in The Bay Area. We chatted, hit it off, I tagged along with them on the tails of their capes, and after a colorful and late night out, they welcomed me to stay at their place in Oakland. We’d stayed in touch on Facebook, and Sean had just texted me that indeed, we’d be around Minneapolis at the same time, as he and Michelle were on vacation and visiting his family. I asked the owner of the nursery for some advice on routing into the city, and he cautioned me about one stretch that was a four-lane divided state route. It was going to be a good haul with some slow climbing, but I was pretty sure I could make it.
Nesbitt’s parents were cyclists and he showed me this super sweet throwback photo:
As I went up and over the first climb of the day, my roll was slowing down when I saw some sidewalk chalk revealing a message that appeared like the Star Wars opening crawl, cautioning cyclists to be careful of the gravel ahead, inviting them to lunch, and then suddenly, it addressed me by name! I was laughing so hard when I pulled into the dusty parking lot when I again saw the Bike and Build van and trailer, and route leader Allison was there to offer me breakfast (she was waiting for the riders to get there for lunch, but it was still only 9 or 10 AM). I raided their stash for some watermelon, an orange, and a brownie. Breakfast of champions! I thanked them for including me. “Back in Ohio, you said you’d probably see us again, but I didn’t believe you. Guess I do now!” she laughed with me. I told her the story of how I met 2014’s Bike and Build group in Lander, Wyoming, and then a couple of days later they’d let us camp on the lawn of the church where they were staying. Then, a month or two later, I was riding down the coast of California when a car pulled up ahead of me and flagged me to stop. In the passenger seat was Meghan, one of the B&B riders! She’d finished her trip and happened to be in CA visiting some friends, said she’d recognized Petunia from the rear. We were happy for the surprise reunion. “Well, maybe I’ll see you guys again. Stranger things have happened!” I said to Allison as I pedaled off.
Some of the route was indeed a little sketchy, riding alongside fast-moving cars, but there was plenty of shoulder, and not much makes me really stressed out when I’m riding anymore. People mostly give me room, and if there’s a good shoulder, I feel better than riding in their lane, and I have my high-visibility clothes and stickers and reflective yellow slow-moving-vehichle triangle, and rearview mirror to keep an eye out behind me to anticipate cars and make sure drivers are giving me room. That said, by mid-day I pulled over to a fast-food restaurant and fed Petunia a bacon and burger patty in case it was our last meal. She didn’t seem stressed by any of it, and was somehow even napping during some of the busy stretches. But it turned out to be a good stop– two members of a nice family made a donation to my Gearing Up fundraiser.
The rest of the ride into the city was interesting, because there were so many dedicated bike paths, paved and separate from the road, which felt weirdly like riding on a sidewalk, which is generally a no-no for bicycles. But it felt a lot safer in the city than trying to get from the farms into the city’s periphery. Petunia and I stopped frequently and played in some of the many parks and lakes (Minnesota is not kidding about the 10,000 lakes thing). Around 6 PM, I arrived just as Sean and Michelle, along with their three kids, Evan, Lelah, and Jane, pulled up to Sean’s folks’ house in a cute neighborhood in Shoreview. Sean’s parents, Jeanette and Pat, welcomed me so openly, and I got big hugs from Michelle and Sean. What a crazy reunion! We were joined by a few other family members, Amy, her husband and son, and the festivities began. We ate pizza and a delicious salad, the kids had fun with Petunia playing fetch and chase, we all got to play with sparklers as it started to get dark (a pyrotechnic first for me), and I was regaled with adventure stories from Sean and Pat, including a few tales of grizzly bear encounters, which unsettled but excited me as I was planning on heading west into brown bear territory once again. To cap the fantastic night off, we relaxed in the hot tub for a while and I let some sore muscles get massaged by the jets, the group talking and catching up late into the night. What a lovely family. I was so grateful to have met them. They fed me in the morning and gave me some mapping advice, a neighbor came by to offer me a brownie, and in the interest in getting me safely out of the city, Jeanette and Pat loaded my bike on their bike rack and drove me a few miles out to the bike path that would reconnect with my route. Really amazing people. I’m so excited I got to meet them and catch up with Sean and Michelle! “It’s not a bike tour without partying with you guys,” I said before Tunes and I hit the road again, already thinking of future tours somehow.