Monday, August 26, 2013

1. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Back in 2009 Gail and I tried to do a bike trip in Wisconsin but that was when I developed a gluten allergy and we had to call it off two days in.  Last year we didn't do a trip because Gail had her hip replaced.  This year we decided to retry some of the Wisconsin trip, and intentionally visit both her mom in Madison and her sister, Martha, and her family in St Paul, MN.  When we first talked about it I thought it was a great idea, it's only about 250 miles between the two cities, Gail had other ideas.  She planned a route to visit Duluth, MN and ride on many miles of bike paths.  "Follow me," she said. "You're gonna love it."

2. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We put our bikes on the train in Syracuse and headed for St Paul.  We weren't in car #420 but it sure looked like everybody was happy in there.  This trip always involves a stop for a few hours in Chicago and a walk to Lake Michigan.  It was a bit of a zoo that day as Lallapolooza was in town and we saw the hordes waiting in line and streaming off the trains to get there.  They all looked exactly alike.  When we got to Duluth they were having a blues festival, and it all sounded exactly alike.

3. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

There promised to be lots of great photo ops.  Now I know why people say they feel like their legs are made of cement when they bonk, and I think we passed the factory where they make Viagra.

4. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We visited with Martha, Jeff and Mariana for a few days.  Took a warm-up ride around St Paul and viewed the Mississippi and a little waterfall.  Sadly, Mariana and Jeff had mishaps the day after we left.  Marianna wiped out on some gravel while signaling a turn and Jeff got a bee in his mouth that stung him.  Reports are that both are recovering.

5. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Jeff commutes to work by bike a couple times per week, and lucky for us his place of work is in the direction we were headed.  He accompanied us an extra few miles to get us to the start of a bike path we'd be on for most of the day.  That's huge, getting out of a major city can be pretty tough on a bike, especially during the morning commute.  Thanks Jeff, we recognize your sacrifice.

6. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

In addition to the family visits, we wanted to visit some specific state parks in MN and WI, spend a few days in Duluth on Lake Superior, and ride many trails in both states.  We put in about 250 miles on bike paths.  Amazing how fast the time goes when you don't have to have your thoughts interrupted by passing traffic.  One stretch lasted 100 consecutive miles on four linked trails with spurs into the city of La Crosse.

7. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We rode over 750 miles and only stopped intentionally to avoid rain once, and it missed us anyway.  But the gate was open at this snowmobile racing track and we got under the Tin Roof Saloon and dreamed of snowstorms and flying snowmobiles.  It did rain twice while we ate lunch, and once we even got wet for about 10 minutes.  The temperature while we were riding went from the 50's in the morning to 70's in the afternoon except the last two days when it actually reached low 80's.  While in Madison it rained 1.23'' bringing the total for the month up to 1.55''.

8. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Until this trip neither of us had ever been to a casino.  That ended in Danbury, WI when the promise of cool, cheap drinks was too much to pass up.  We didn't gamble, but we did hit the jackpot with a country band all the way from Manitoba who did a killer version of "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

9. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Now I'm not saying biking an extra four days to see some Bob Dylan history was my plan, but it was a thrill to ride on the Bob Dylan Way and sit on his boyhood home front steps in Duluth.   It was in Duluth he saw Buddy Holly give one of his last shows and claims Holly winked at him and he knew what he was going to do with his life. 

10. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We took a cool cruise around the Duluth Harbor and out into Lake Superior, the guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the area, the ships coming and going, Lake Superior and the St. Louis River which empties into the lake here to form the port.  If you're a glutton for punishment we'll tell you some of the 500 puns he also shared with us.  Something far more interesting and worth your time is the three-minute time lapse video of the harbor activities posted each day on the link above.  The 1000' ships cruise around like little power boats and the bridge in the top picture comes down like a guillotine.  Not sure what it goes up like, any ideas?

11. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We learned on the cruise that Duluth once had the most millionaires in the world.  It was at that time this school was built. There aren't quite so many millionaires these days, in fact homelessness was way more prevalent than we expected.  I was curious about the clock tower since McGraw Tower is one of my favorite hang outs in Ithaca and this looked much like it and promised wonderful views.  I found an open door and wandered around the building, learning that it now hosts the administration offices for the school district. Eventually I found someone, the district business manager, who wasn't in any hurry to get to work that morning to be my guide.  After exploring four floors, including the basement, in search of the guy with the clock tower key, I never made it up.

12. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

I got up early enough to climb the escarpment and watch the sunrise.  Never found the official overlook, but this spot worked alright.

13. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Crossing the St. Louis River from Duluth, MN to Superior, WI on a bike requires going over the Richard Bong Memorial Bridge.  I was at about the highest point when I thought of the futility of his kids trying to sell bottled water using the family name.  Cracked myself up pretty good with that one and have only repeated it a hundred times or so since.  Anyway, the bottom is a picture of a train track downwind from the Bong Bridge, that's how they get built under those circumstances.

14. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Rivers abound.  Glacial rivers made potholes, more welcome and interesting than potholes on roads, rivers with tannins run brown, and the St. Croix was a nice place to shave.

15. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

This close to a Great Lake and the Mississippi you're bound to take in a few waterfalls.  Top:  Amnicon Falls State Park.  Middle: Big Manitou Falls (fifth-highest east of the Rockies), Pattison State Park.  Bottom:  Wolf Creek Falls, Banning State Park, MN.

16. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

Wisconsin names lots of its county roads by assigning them a letter.  This creates lots of business opportunities such as the EZ Street Saloon at the corner of Co. E and Co. Z.

17. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

If you're a beer drinker in Wisconsin, you're in luck.  But what's with the Imports list in this Mexican chain?

18. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

It's important to stay hydrated on these trips.  I fill my water bottle in a park and Gail gets a drink from a fountain.

19. St Paul to Madison, via Duluth

We were treated to plenty of art and birds along the way.  We saw many Sandhill cranes out standing in their fields, they are abundant enough in the area to be a bother to farmers.  A bike-centered cafe in Wabasha, MN, the National Eagle Center is also in Wabasha.  They have rehabilitated Bald and Golden Eagles that you can stand a couple feet away from, and lots of wild Bald Eagles hang out on the river.  We also went to the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, WI where they have all 15 species of cranes found in the world.