Aug 14: First five daysAug 14: First five days
[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on August 14, 2004]
Hi, folks! Sorry it's taken me a while to write a real message; I wanted to have something real to say first. I've been taking daily notes, but they make for dull reading. I've got enough miles behind me now that I can start using generalities instead of just specifics. :)
So... so far everything's going great! I know most people wouldn't consider two days of cold drizzle and rain a good way to start a bike trip, but in a year there are bound to be some days of bad weather! Besides, I find that one sunny day makes up for about three drizzly ones, not only in my mood but in basic tasks like recharging batteries (solar charger) and drying laundry. So I'm all caught up now.
Three days is also the magic number for my physical fitness. As on my previous trips, the first two days were really hard: my joints ached, my muscles ached, and I couldn't think straight by the end of the day. But on the third day I was not only pain-free but so full of energy I didn't want to stop riding. Now I don't know what I'll do with myself when I take a day off to visit with friends... turn a generator or something.
Tuesday and Thursday I rode at least half the way on designated bike trails made from old railroad rights-of-way. (Gateway State Trail from St. Paul to Stillwater, MN, and Red Cedar State Trail, from Menomonie to near Durand, WI.) Wednesday and Friday I stuck to county roads and the shoulders of state highways. I've got to say that Wisconsin gets good marks in my book for its highway shoulders: all the ones I've ridden on so far are very clean of debris and comfortably wide.
Wisconsin state parks are also excellent. Both Willow River (Tuesday night) and Perrot (Friday night) are spacious, quiet, clean of litter, and well staffed, and their restrooms and such are in great shape. I wish I could say the same for the "resort" I patronized outside Menomonie; its owners are getting too old to keep the place up, apparently.
Thursday night I experimented with unofficial camping. There were no official campgrounds along my route (the Buffalo River from Mondovi, WI to the Mississippi), so, being full of energy, I just kept riding all evening until the sun began to set, eating dinner during little breaks along the way. Then I found the perfect spot: an overgrown access road leading into a grove of trees near the river. I followed it when no one was coming and found no "no trespassing" signs, just a little one proclaiming "FUR FARM LICENSED BY WI DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES".
I followed the road (on foot) way into the wetlands but didn't find any clues to what a "fur farm" might be. Maybe it's not leased right now. I certainly heard plenty of beavers going about their business overnight, along with loons, frogs, some bird that sounds like a monkey, and a pack of dogs that yelped like coyotes! At any rate, the place was beautiful, and I took lots of pictures both at sunset and at dawn, when the valley filled with fog.
Since I didn't have ready access to water that night, I ran out and couldn't make breakfast, so when I rode into Alma (on the Mississippi) first thing Friday morning, I stopped and got a proper greasy-spoon breakfast. It occurred to me that my camping menu doesn't include any fat, and fat is a necessary nutrient...
Which leads me to roadside farm stands. I've been able to get sweet corn every single day just by stopping at stands along my route. I've also bought some cheese straight from the factory store, a properly ripe muskmelon, and a tomato. I hope to be able to buy citrus fruit this way during the winter. :-)
Finally, I apologize to those of you whose calls I haven't returned. Although my phone gets good reception most of the time, it's roaming (i.e. not my provider's coverage), so if I used it I would be charged a bundle. If I don't find better coverage soon, I'll switch to a plan that doesn't penalize me so much for roaming. Thanks for your patience!
to Willow River SP, WIto Willow River SP, WI
The trip out of the Twin Cities was uneventful but sentimental, since I passed a lot of landmarks I remembered from five years ago when Victoria took me along on her Urban Geography assignment.
Today was very cool -- 50s F -- and cloudy, but thankfully the rain held off all day. I'm expecting rain tonight. I was comfortable in a T-shirt as long as I was moving but got very chilly whenever I stopped.
The route through Minnesota was almost entirely bike path, and through Wisconsin it was all marked "BIKE ROUTE." I didn't think much of this bike route when it first started, because it led me up a hill steeper than any I'd hoped to climb... with no shoulder! But after that it was fine.
Willow River State Park is very nice, clean and quiet. I had sweet corn from a farm stand with my dinner, and it was so sweet it tasted like dessert.
Total distance: 38.65 mi. See map
to Menomonie, WIto Menomonie, WI
This morning my left knee still hurt from yesterday's ride, enough that I was tempted to rest a day before continuing on. I paused at the exit of the state park to consider this, but finally I decided that if I was going to rest a day, Menomonie would be a better place to do it. Fortunately my knee stopped hurting after a few miles.
The rain that started last night continued as drizzle all day, but little more than that. It looks like I won't be able to see the Perseids tonight, but I'm just glad the rain wasn't more intense.
Many of the county and state highways I rode on today were marked with the "BIKE ROUTE" signs I saw yesterday, but if there's a comprehensive guide to where these routes go I haven't found it.
Anyway, the road into Menomonie was very nice, following a stream bed. When I reached town, the head of the trail I'll take tomorrow was very easy to find, and it connected up with a city bike trail that went exactly where I wanted to go: the library. :-)
Unfortunately the road from the library to the campgrounds north of town was longer and hillier than I had expected. By the time I got to the closer campground I had decided to stay here even though the farther one was probably nicer, because the farther one was 1.5 miles farther and I didn't feel that I could make it. So I paid more than I expected for a not-so-nice place, but it'll do.
Total distance: 44.6 mi
to Perrot State Park, WIto Perrot State Park, WI
I realized while making camp last night that I wouldn't have enough water for breakfast, so I decided to ride into Alma first thing in the morning and get a hot breakfast. What a luxury!
I followed WI 35, which is part of the Great River Road, down the Mississippi for most of the day. Although it carries a lot of traffic, it has nice wide, clean shoulders to ride on. Just past the enormous Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, I entered Perrot State Park near the trailhead of the Great River State Trail. I had to decide whether to stay at the park (even though it wasn't yet 4 PM) or continue down the trail to Onalaska and La Crosse and hope for other campgrounds there.
After talking with a ranger, I decided to stay at the park for a number of reasons: the campground nearest La Crosse is currently cut off by road construction; all the errands I need to run can be done in Onalaska, which is closer to the trail, so that I could do both Great River and La Crosse River trails in one day, saving on trail passes; and an early afternoon meant that I could thoroughly dry out the camping gear for a change.
Perrot State Park is enormous! The campground alone is bigger than a lot of state parks in Minnesota, say, along the north shore of Lake Superior. And like Willow River, it's very well maintained. I'm beginning to like Wisconsin...
Speaking of which, I bought a ripe muskmelon along the roadside this afternoon along with the fourth straight day of sweet corn. Mmmm.
Total distance: 34.87 mi
To Sparta, WITo Sparta, WI
This morning I left Perrot state park and followed the Great River State Trail into Onalaska, just north of La Crosse. The ranger told me a Target there was my best bet for 1-hour photo developing. I wasn't ready for the experience of re-entering "civilization" (essentially suburbia). It was a nightmare! After getting only half my errands done in over 2 hours I gave up and headed east on the La Crosse River State Trail.
Just east of La Crosse I found a little town where I thought I could stop and find a phone line suitable for my modem, and I found one in a little computer store that just opened last week. I talked shop with the proprietor and she let me send the e-mail I'd been storing up on my Visor.
The La Crosse River State Trail is about as flat as it could be, except that it follows the river, so I was going slightly uphill all afternoon. Very tiring on an essentially dirt road. I got a personal recommendation from another cyclist for a campground where I'd been planning on heading tonight anyway, but instead I decided to check out the "walk-in" campground east of Sparta. It's for cyclists and pedestrians only (being on the trail), it's totally unstaffed, and tonight it's totally empty except for me and the critters. I had to scare off a pair of eyes from my tent while I type this -- probably a raccoon, I'm guessing. This is much more special than any private campground.
There was a bunch of firewood collected at my site, so I tried my best to start a fire, first using just matches and kindling, then using my bike lube as lighter fluid, but no luck.
Total distance: 41.86 mi