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Day 26 – The Finish Line

Day 26 – The Finish Line

This morning we got up early in Hastings, MN. We set out on the local trail system and got lost! We found ourselves on Highway 55, pedaling alongside the very fast moving rush hour traffic of the Twin Cities. The plus side of this venture was that we “cut” the corner of our proposed ride and saved a few miles in transit.

When we finally got to a real bike trail, we were down close to the river and crossed over on the bridge close to the airport. The view was spectacular – I know this photo will look strange on the website, but here it is…

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It’s hard to tell in the little photo, but you can see downtown St. Paul on the right, and Minneapolis on the left, with the mighty Mississippi below.

The trails along the river were very nice. We biked along Fort Snelling and in and out of the woods for a while.

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From there we shot up toward the University of Minnesota. We met up with Mark, the boys’ cousin, who works at the school he attends in the lab. Jimmy Johns had $1 subs, so we spent the big bucks and had a great lunch together.

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After lunch we started for our final destination. My parents live in Spring Lake Park, which is about 7-8 miles north of Minneapolis. We pedaled along East River Road and reminisced about various sights along the way. About 3 miles out… Joshua’s axle locks up!

A bearing went out and it totally froze.

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We took it apart, cleaned out the various pieces, and put things back together. He was making a pretty good scraping sound, but we decided that the bearing-less axle might go three miles, so on we went.

At 1:05 PM CST, we drove up and into the driveway of my parents home. The AC was on, the drinks were cool, and it’s great to be done!! I am proud of these two young men.

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Stay tuned for a wrap-up in the next few days…

Day 25 – Beautiful Lake Pepin

Day 25 – Beautiful Lake Pepin

This morning as we got underway Joshua got another flat. It would be the first of three on that bike. It’s really strange – all three have the same tires, the same puncture protector, and the same tubes. At the end of the tire change he mounted up and took off only to crunch the rear derailure in the spokes, breaking a spoke and mangling the derailure. When I first saw it I thought, “We’re done riding.” Forty five minutes later, though, we were back on the road.

Today’s ride was spectacular. We switched from roads to bike trails and the shoulders were always generous and the trails well groomed. This ride took us alongside Lake Pepin.

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If you live in Minnesota and haven’t spent time here, you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s beautiful. In Minnesota lore, Lake Pepin is the birthplace of water skiing.

We stopped in Red Wing for lunch at a McDonalds and soon after veered off to find a bike trail. We were met with signs declaring that the trail was closed due to flooding and that being on it “would be considered trespassing.” They got my attention at “flooding” and the sign seemed a little heavy handed. In any case, we jumped back on 61 and headed north, meeting up with the Mississippi River Trail a bit later.

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There was a big hill going back out toward the river and we climbed (ok, I admit it, we walked a bit) back up to some pretty good altitude.

So, tonight we are in Hastings. Tomorrow we conquer the city and will hopefully end up at my parent’s home in the northeast suburbs. That is IF Joshua’s bike can take another fifty miles.

By the way, I have been emailed by folks from MnDOT about the trail and our observations. The care that they show about the MRT is impressive and can be seen as you bike. The fact that they want more information even much more so. Go Minnesota!

Distance Today: 52 Miles
Total Distance: 1,322 (approximate)

Day 24 – Land of Sky Blue Waters

Day 24 – Land of Sky Blue Waters

You can make all the “cold Minneso-da” jokes you want to make but you can’t argue with this: Minnesota (and the land across the river – Wisconsin) is a beautiful state.

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We woke up in the bike camp this morning. I had a pretty rough night’s sleep. I was coughing all night and the highway was pretty close to the camping site so there were big trucks coming through all night.

The ride was about 50 miles today and we were bucking strong headwinds most of the way. Fortunately, the road was flat and the views were stunning.

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Tonight we are holed up in Wabasha, where the movie “Grumpy Old Men” was filmed. Tomorrow we are in Hastings, if all goes according to plan.

Day 23 – Minnesota!

Day 23 – Minnesota!

I couldn’t post this last night since we were out of cell phone range.

After I posted last night we had a visitor come by! My brother drove down from the Twin Cities to bring us a bike (which we opted not to take – it’s complicated with bags and all) and a barley pop. It was a reminder to us that we are getting ever closer to the Twin Cities (we are going to finish the ride at my parents house in Spring Lake Park, just north of Minneapolis). Thanks Jim!!

Today’s ride was by far the prettiest ride yet.

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The pictures, taken with my phone while pedaling, don’t do justice to the beauty of the river at this point in the ride. The brown sludge that we say down south has given way to a dark blue that is just gorgeous. Eagles swirl in the air above and the road conditions are markedly better.

We stopped a few times along the way to read some historical markers. Many wars were fought along the river as the settlers drove the Indians out. One wonders how a different outcome could have happened. It seems that every placard announces the destruction of one tribe, chief, or band.

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We made incredible time considering that we were riding into a straight north wind. It was tiring and the elder of the trio was feeling the strength of a bad cold virus. I hope the boys don’t get this as I need them to pull me along. Most touring bicyclists plan “days off” to recover but we have ridden every day. I think the tolls is starting to take me down a bit.

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At about 2:00 in the afternoon we crossed the bridge from La Crosse, WI, to La Crescent, MN. That’s right, we are in the Motherland. It’s hard to believe after passing through so many states.

The state of MN has a great system of bike trails and services. After a 70+ mile ride (we went off the trail to purchase some food) we found the “bikers camp” on Hwy 61. This is a special five site camp just for bike campers. It’s self-service which means you register and pay on your own. We setup camp and had dinner.

I had put Joshua in charge of buying groceries. I am not sure I will repeat this. He purchased eight very thick hot dogs, buns, and had a handful of ketchup packets from McDonalds. Now, it was food, and I was hungry, but I am not sure I have ever seen hotdog meat so utterly processed and so utterly thick. I sliced mine into halves and had “two for the price of one.” With young men it’s all about the volume. No onions, mustard, or other complicating factors. I guess that keeps the weight down!

Day 22 – In and out of the valley

Day 22 – In and out of the valley

I woke up this morning with a sore throat, a runny nose, and swollen eyes. My chest hurts deep down when I breathe. The little bag of wonder drugs that has ridden along this past month finally came out and we started from Nelson Dewey State Park at about 7:45 which is pretty late for us.

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The day started rather rudely with a 400 foot climb out of the river valley up onto the bluff. Oh, and then back down again, and then up again. We had planned a short day today and it turns out that this was providence as the ride was tougher than we had anticipated.

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We are beginning to feel the anticipating of finishing. We are still some days off but when we look at the map it’s pretty amazing how far we have come. I think there will be a real sense of accomplishment when we finally show up.

Tonight is laundry at a hotel night! YAY! As you go further north you find that hotels are a bit more expensive so this really feels like we are splurging.

We decided we needed a calorie bomb so we treated ourselves to Wisconsin’s version of California’s In’n Out Burger: Culvers. I think I had about a 4,000 calorie burger, followed up a by frozen custard (and the cheese curds were great). I am not going to tell you what the boys ate – let’s just say we ate a lot. I think I have lost about 15 pounds, but that’s just a guess.

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Day 21 – Cheeseheads

Day 21 – Cheeseheads

This morning we got up in Cascade, IA, with plans to enter Wisconsin. Of all the days on the bike thus far, today was certainly our most “athletic.” We climbed to our highest overall altitude, 1,225 feet, but we gained and lost that altitude numerous times. So we did a LOT of climbing. This was the first day where we didn’t walk the bikes much – we just went down into the “granny gears” and went forth.

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We passed through Dyersville, IA, today, passed by the film site for “Field of Dreams,” and had lunch while we were there.

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From there we headed further north and that’s when the “big climbs” came. One after another, climbing, climbing, only to drop a few hundred feet and climb again. Finally, we headed down the hill for good and dropped 550 feet in one long, incredible downhill. It was pretty epic.

We got onto a dirt road and met the “Cassville Ferry.” This is a car ferry which can hold about eight to ten cars. Only two made the trip with us. It was hot, but it was very nice to sit and watch the whole process from a relaxed (non-pedaling) perch.

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In Cassville we stopped for a burger at the “Town Pump.” They had cards and a cribbage board, so I got one more chance to teach David who the boss is.

As we pedaled through the town we came across the community pool. Since it was early in the day and we had only three miles left in the day we decided to take a swim for a few hours. It’s always interested when word filters out that we are biking from New Orleans to Minneapolis – people have lots of questions.

Tonight we are in Nelson Dewey State Park, up on top of a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi from the Wisconsin side of the river. That means we have only one more state to put behind us. We are looking at being done in 6-7 days at the pace we are going.

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PS No “mechanicals” today.

Day 20 – Momma said there would be days like this

Day 20 – Momma said there would be days like this

Today was, for me, the hardest day on the bike. We got a late start (the hotel we stayed in last night served a later breakfast than most) and weren’t on the road until about 7:30. Right off the bat we started hitting the hills.

Most folks think of Iowa as a very flat place and I am sure it is in places. We started today at about 300 feet in elevation and almost broke 1,000 about three times. There are not mountains here but the farmland is rolling and the climbs sometimes lasted 30 minutes or more. We would climb a few hundred feet and the drop into a valley only to have to regain all that altitude. Some of the climbs were more than a mile in length – we didn’t expect it!

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I should have taken pictures of the climbs but didn’t – I was too whupped to whip out the camera.

The heat index today in Tipton, where we arrived for lunch at Caseys, was 116 degrees. We ordered a pizza and ate it while sitting on the hot cement in front of the gas station.

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A “mechanical” is what bike tourers call a mechanical breakdown. Today we had five of these and there was no shade available to hide under. We had two broken spokes (Josh and I), two flat tires (Josh and I), and “the weak one” had a strange rear axle seize up. We had to remove the hubs to fix the spokes and I think I messed up the axle when I did that. In any case, I had to remove all the guts and rebuild the bearing clusters – thank God for spare parts once again! Pray that these bikes make it. After the tour I will be posting my thoughts on using rebuilt mountain bikes for touring.

At one point I snapped at Dave and Josh in anger – there was no call for it and I was very shamed by my behavior. Tempers were short all around and we were working hard all day. It was just plain tough.

We arrived at Riverview Ridge Campground and found a wonderful little river which we all enjoyed. We let the water run over our aching muscles and spent the time talking about the day and recalibrating our relationships. It was a wonderful memory that I would not trade for anything. In years to come we might forget the hard day of work on the bike but we won’t forget the fun of lounging in the babbling water as we sifted rocks and watched birds and fish go by. The picture below is the view form our picnic table at the campsite.

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The good news is that we logged 76 miles. We cut straight north from Muscatine, leaving the Mississippi River Trail for two days, which will save us one entire day on the trip (not to mention the hills around Dubuque). While the day was hot and hard, Iowa is beautiful and lush with agricultural riches.

Tomorrow we are planning a shorter ride and a ferry across the Mississippi. If all goes according to plan we will cross into Wisconsin sometime in the afternoon.

Day 19 – Fast Blast to Muscatine

Day 19 – Fast Blast to Muscatine

We took off this morning after a nice hotel breakfast (waffles!) and hit the road at 6:30 AM. We generally fall asleep a bit earlier than we do in our “civilian life” and we were plenty rested after the shorter day yesterday.

As we climbed out of Burlington on our way to Muscatine David spotted a wallet on the road. Inside was the license, credit cards, social security card, and other items. We stopped to call the police and waited a few minutes for them to show up. An older gentleman riding a recumbent bicycle and pulling a trailer passed us by. We would meet up with him later on in the day at a water break.

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We cut inland a bit today, avoiding the official Mississippi River Trail and cutting some time considering the heat. The heat index rose to about 115 degrees this afternoon.

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It was the flattest day of biking yet. Up until our mid-morning break the road was excellent with a dedicated shoulder and smooth surface. We pulled into a gas station for water and a quick snack at about 10:00 AM. When we got back out to the bikes, Joshua’s had a flat. That makes about 6-7 flats and all but two of them on the same bike.

This picture if from from Muscatine, where we waited for the train a few times this afternoon.

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Dave and Josh are very different traveling companions. Josh is slow and steady, never complaining despite having to ride the “weak one” each day (I rode it for a while, but it’s smaller and fits him better than mine does). David, on the other hand, likes speed and is rather hard to follow at times. He is always great to put up front when we need a little extra speed. In the picture below you can see how happy they were when we made to our air conditioned hotel this afternoon.

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Day 18 – Happy Hot 4th from IOWA!

Day 18 – Happy Hot 4th from IOWA!

This morning we woke up a bit later than usual knowing that we were doing to take a shorter ride. The humidity had picked up overnight and I was sweating before we had our morning oatmeal.

Today’s route took up past Nauvoo, IL, where there is a lot of Mormon history. We passed the large Mormon temple as we climbed uphill.

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There was much more riding alongside the river today. It was beautiful, but a bit hilly in places. The image below is just before getting to Nauvoo.

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We crossed over into Iowa on a drawbridge across the Mississippi. We decided that it was time for “second breakfast” and found a small diner called “Wallyburgers.” They were ready to make hamburgers at 10:00 AM – that’s my kind of place.

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Tonight finds us in the Quality Inn, at Burlington, IA. This is the first Quality Inn we have found that has no washer and dryer, so we haven’t been able to do any washing. We had dinner at a Chinese buffet to celebrate American Independence (kind of ironic, considering they now own us) and are going to watch a movie tonight.

The “weak one” had a flat tire today.

Tomorrow’s heat index is anticipated to hit 115 degrees. That is dangerously hot for us. I am considering another hotel tomorrow night. Our plan was to camp cheaply and these hotel stays are killing the budget. Oh well – not much else we can do at this point.

Today’s Mileage: 39
Total Mileage: 939

Day 17 – A Long Ride

Day 17 – A Long Ride

The morning after the storm was very beautiful.

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Today was long ride – we went 80 miles. We knew that pretty soon we had to take one day and make some serious mileage so today was that day.

In the morning we hit it hard, crossing the bridge from Missouri back into Illinois. We were told that the the Illinois side was going to be a lot flatter. It was, I am sure, but it was also filled with long rolling hills. Our legs are getting more and more used the workout and we hit the

The temps here got up to 103 degrees and it was humid. We went through so much water it was hard to keep the bottles filled. We stopped for sports drinks as I was a bit fearful that we are losing electrolytes.

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This was one of the many unscheduled stops we made along the way today.

We burned off the first 40 miles before taking a significant break. We ended up at a Burger King in Quincy, IL. Our shirts are very “orange” and dirty looking from the sunscreen we have been using (if anybody knows how to get that out of a shirt – let me know; you get bonus points if it’s something that we can do on the road).

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David is battling knee pain. We have tried adjusting his seat. For a while there I was thinking that we might have to stop – for good. It seemed to get a bit better and we backed off on the pace some. Tonight he is sore. Tomorrow is the 4th of July, so we have booked a hotel room and are doing a measly 40 mile ride so that he can recover and we can get a break. Pray for Dave!