The day started overcast and foggy, but warmer and drier. Our night inside left us refreshed and rested. We got on the road by 8:00 and rode strong down highway 61 with its wide shoulders, right by the river. We felt great, riding through the bluff country of southern Minnesota (Houston County is especially beautiful and pastoral, and they have no mosquitoes) and by noon we were in Iowa, in the little town of New Albin, where we asked a couple shy young men where to look for lunch. We were standing by Buzzard’s Bar where it was Taco Tuesday. They said “that red building over there” and pointed, “or here.” So we walked in with them and had some tacos. At the bar were about a half dozen men who got quiet when we entered. But it was good…and cheap. Then we blasted down to Lansing, where last year’s RAGBRAI ended, a lovely little river town. We rode through and then started up the hill going south out of town and decided to stop at the Driftless Area Visitor Center and had a great conversation with a retired priest/Theo teacher (Father Gary) who had worked at Luther, so we had friends in common. As we left, I said “pray for us” and he said something about St. Christopher who I just learned is the patron saint of travelers on long journeys, so, good!
He said we had a couple of hills ahead of us to get through the Yellow River State Forest. We’d ridden down them last summer going the opposite direction, but going up this afternoon was something else. Our bikes both have three chain rings in front – a small one, a middle sized one and a big one. The small one is for going uphill, and when your chain is on that small ring in front and the largest ring in the back, you can pedal fast, but your wheel doesn’t really turn much. You struggle to go 5 miles an hour. But it is the only way to get up steep hills…it is called the granny gear, and we’ve rarely used it, but we did today, over and over. Remember, we are carrying roughly 30 pounds of gear each. Suffice it to say, we were alternately awed by the beauty and kicked by the workout. We actually went up three of those hills, accompanied by blue skies and swarms of mosquitoes. And then hit 30 mph going down the other side.
We finally came down into Marquette, 87 miles after leaving Winona, and checked into a Cobblestone Suites and took long showers, and then walked over to the local casino to try their buffet. The trains run up and down the Mississippi regularly, and the sound of them clanking through town is like music to me. We are ready for bed.
PS – those of you who might be saying “I thought they were camping!” – we’ve had a couple of hard days. After 8 or 9 hours in the saddle, finding food to cook and a place to camp, setting up the tent, a state park shower, and sleeping on the ground is hard… We’ll be doing that plenty, don’t worry. For now, we are ramping up and can use the rest.