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The Great Mississippi River Ride, page 1
Minneapolis, MN to St. Charles, MO
(The Great Northern River Ride)

current date and time 2007-05-05 | 13:33:54
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Number of Journal Entries online: 11
Day 0 - August 13 - Minneapolis, MN - Opening Day! Welcome Cyclists!
Welcome to the Great Mississippi River Ride!
Cyclists arrived throughout the day with their bicycle and prepared for the big adventure ahead. Planned activities were: bike assembly and safety inspection, ride registration and orientation session. As you can imagine there was a little excitement and anxiety in the air as everyone realized the ride was about to begin. After our first meal together all the cyclists retired to their hotel rooms to rest up for tomorrow we ride.

posted 2005-08-18 | 19:59:28 | article number: 1

Day 1, Aug. 14, Minneapolis to Red Wing, MN, 61miles, 3200 feet of climb
Leaving the Eagan Best Western Yankee Doodle Motel under cloudless skies and with a perfect temp of 62F, ABB staff wannabe from St. Paul, Jeff Lazer, led the riders to downtown St. Paul on a beautiful paved bike path along the River. Here riders crossed the Mississippi for the first of what will be many times as we travel to New Orleans along this mighty river. At about mile 16�a quarter of the day�s route�a few small hills out in farm country (beans and corn) caught our attention. Just beyond the halfway point for the day, we entered Prescott, WI, where the St. Croix River joins the Mississippi. Already the river was much wider than it was at St. Paul.

After we left Prescott, we cycled on the bluff side of the river with some challenging climbs, wonderful descents, and fantastic vistas. We then dropped into Red Wing Minnesota, a city on the river noted for its pottery and the Red Wing Boot. This year on the boot�s 100th birthday, there are very large, exquisitely decorated boots all over town.

All the riders shook off first day anxieties and enjoyed each other and their first grand day of rolling along the River.

posted 2005-08-18 | 20:01:15 | article number: 2

Day 2--Aug 15, Red Wing to LaCrosse ,WI; 100 miles; Climb 2560 feet
We rolled out of bed while it was still dark and were ready to go shortly after sunrise on a 100-mile journey along the Great Mississippi River. Sunny skies and cool temperatures made for perfect weather to climb our first hill 10 miles from Red Wing . . . funny how this hill seemed smaller than the hills yesterday. Am I already getting stronger? White tailed deer, a badger, and bald eagles, egrets, blue jays, teal, and many other birds welcomed us to this beautiful part of the River. The view of Lake Pepin (where the Chippewa River joins the Mississippi) was fantastic with light hazy fog over the River making the distant shore disappear.

We peddled through many very small communities and visited local bakeries, shops, and home-style restaurants. It seemed like every community offered its own special view of the River. Farm fields were lush with soy beans and corn; roadside stands offered fresh garden vegetables and fruit. Laura Ingles Wilder lived 6 miles from our route, and she captured this period of her life in her book, Little House in the Big Woods.

One highlight was a visit to Lock #4. The lock keeper operated the lock for us even though there was no boat traffic. The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad trains provided picture opportunities too as well as a train almost every hour.

Heard on the road today: �That was the best sag stop of the day.� [This after the first SS-�riders had three on this long day.

posted 2005-08-18 | 20:01:53 | article number: 3

Day 3--Tue., Aug. 16--LaCrosse to Prairie du Chien, WI--65 miles, 1,810 feet of climbing
If there was ever a perfect biking day, with great weather and great scenery, today was it. Early morning fog along the Mississippi River gave us a mysterious feeling. Gradually the sun broke through. For much of the ride we had the tall bluffs immediately on our left side and the railroad and River on the right, a very leisurely undemanding and scenic route. Several riders felt especially strong and took a one-half mile side trip up a 12% grade to see a fantastic view from the top of the bluff. Puffy small cumulus clouds dotted the sky in the afternoon.

All the riders are feeling comfortable. They are taking time to enjoy the FANTASTIC Mississippi River and its sights, sounds, aromas, tastes, and people.

The River is getting wider . . . perhaps a mile at times . . . with much of the width incorporated in the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge. At one point we saw several hundred white pelicans, plus indigo buntings, bald eagles, and many other birds. Riders enjoyed cheese curds, a fresh and squeaky Wisconsin delicacy . . . another WI delectable enjoyed by all was Culvars' frozen custard ice cream. Historic markers on the route and Ride Leader Wengren's private history lessons during the evening�s Route Rap helped us appreciate the ride even more. Also during RR this evening, Susan Walker, LCI #1067, gave riders some tips on proper left and right turns and riding techniques.

posted 2005-08-18 | 20:02:51 | article number: 4

Day 4--Wed., Aug. 17--Prairie du Chien to Dubuque, IA--69 miles, 4,580 feet of climb
Another fantastic day to be bicycling in Wisconsin along the Mighty Mississippi. We started out at the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, with fog blanketing the river valleys. Within a few minutes we had climbed the bluff, had sunny skies and were treated to a magnificent view of the fog below us. If we had to give today�s ride a name, it might be �Welcome to the hills of Wisconsin farmland.� Yes, there were a few longer climbs, which we scaled up easily (tho slowly in some cases), but the beautiful fields with rows of corn meandering across the top of the hills, interspersed with beams and hay clover, made the climbs worth every revolution of the pedals.

Many of us marveled at the Grotto in Dickeyville. a unique work done by Father Mathias Wernerus between 1925 and 1931, in which he celebrates both God and country. All of it is made of concrete into which Mattheus has embedded bits of rock, glass, porcelain, antique dishes, tiles, fossils, petrified wood, coral, shells, mirrors, marbles, and anything else that one can imagine. One half of it is a shrine to Jesus and the other half is a tribute to Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. There were several gardens sprinkled in between, each with its own eclectic fountains, bird houses, and yard ornaments; It was indeed unique in all respects. After viewing the Grotto, most of us had a bite to eat at the Rainbow Bar and Caf� just down the street. The waitress really picked on us, especially riders at the back of the pack (Whattsa matter? Don�t you have enough muscles?�). Then riders were briefly detoured because the road we wanted had been obliterated. Finally, we entered Illinois, crossed the bridge into Iowa and dipped our toes (and sometimes more) into the ice cold pool at the motel. The toughest day of the ride completed!

posted 2005-08-18 | 20:03:31 | article number: 5

Day 5 � Thur., Aug. 18 � Dubuque to Clinton IA � 78 miles; 4,230 feet of climbing
We spent the night in Dubuque, IA, but early in the morning crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and so spent all day riding in Illinois . . . before crossing the River again at the end of the day to again spend the night in Clinton IA.

Illinois welcomed us this morning with a free bike wash � about 1� inches of rain. Riders took shelter from the storm where they could. When the worst had passed, riders set out again to tackle Chetlain Hill, the first of three 15% climbs for the day. Just as the first riders crested the hill, the storm returned with a vengeance. Ride Leader Wengert asked a farmer at the top of the hill if riders could shelter in his barn. The farmer was more than agreeable, even moving some of the heavy equipment he had stored there and providing light. Wengert pulled riders into the barn as they topped the hill. The first riders probably spent the better part of an hour there. (The left photo above is a rain barrel as seen from the barn.)

The next climb was Blackjack Hill, a 0.7 mile long 15% climb. At the start of the climb was a sign saying �Trucks use low gear,� along with a sign showing a truck on a cheese--going uphill. Usually these signs show the truck going downhill. Everyone applauded when Gabe, the youngest rider ever to do the Mississippi ride (he�s 16 years old and cycling with his father) successfully climbed the infamous Blackjack Hill. Shortly after all riders had conquered this hill, the clouds broke and the day turned warm and sunny, with a nice breeze from the south.

After the rain we peddled through beautiful NW Illinois farm country with a lot of short hills. After lunch we rode on the Grand Illinois Trail (GIT). (The right photo above is of riders waiting for a train to pass so that they may get onto the trail.) The Grand Illinois Trail is a 475-mile paved bicycle trail through northern Illinois that will link Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River and connect metropolitan Chicago, Rockford, Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN and the Quad Cities. A times the trail ran through a tree tunnel � a nice change of pace when the day was getting hot. The last rider got in just in time for Route Rap. All the riders were proud to have completed this day and certainly earned their bragging rights.

posted 2005-08-18 | 22:18:15 | article number: 6

Day 6 -- Fri., Aug. 19 -- Clinton to Galesburg, IL; 87 miles, 2,920 feet of climb
After spending the night in Clinton, Iowa, we cycled back across the Mississippi to Illinois for the day on our way to Galesburg, IL. The first third of the ride was on the GIT (Great Illinois Trail) a paved bike path that parallels the Mighty Miss. The remainder of the ride was on back roads most of the time, full of small enjoyable hills out in the rich Illinois farmland. We cycled through several small communities, each with its own special character. Agriculture is king in this area. The weather was great . . . sunny, humidity under 50% RH most of the day, and temps starting out cool and warming up to 90F in the afternoon.

A word about the SAG Stops where we fill our water bottles, eat some snacks (bananas, crackers, apples, peanuts, etc.) and socialize. SS#1 was at a small community park down by the River and across from the Port Byron Fire Station and Municipal Bldg. The police chief came over and welcomed us. Then the Fire Chief unlocked the municipal restrooms for the riders. It was hard to leave such a welcoming and picturesque spot.

Then another 30 miles down the road we had another SAG stop at Dave�s Restaurant. Most of us had lunch at Dave�s . . . probably the busiest lunchtime they have had in months. A really good dinner buffet with lots of the riders sharing their �road stories� completed the day.

posted 2005-08-19 | 23:17:51 | article number: 7

Day 7--Saturday, August 20--Galesburg to Keokuk, IA, 95 miles, 2,230 feet of climb
Last night there were a few thunderstorms that rolled through, but by morning, we could see the clearing in the northwest sky. After a hardy breakfast at Perkin�s Family Restaurant, we cycled through Galesburg, IL (Home of Knox College). Within an hour, the sun was out, with an occasional cloud providing some shade at times. Beautiful.

Most of the day we were away from the River . . . that means flat. Did we ever see lots of corn fields....the price of corn must be high. I think there might be more corn here than in Iowa! As a matter of fact, these past seven days have been very �corny,� though when we get farther south we will be saying the same about cotton. If there wasn't corn today, then it was soy beans. We also saw deer trying to out-race us � they won.

What is a tailwind? Gene, the chief meteorologist on the ride, says that if the wind hits your head first and then your tail, it is a tailwind. Is that right?

One of the nicest parts of the ride today was the last 15 miles along the mighty Mississippi, with trees overhanging the road and lots of boat traffic on the River. Tonight, we are at Lock 14, which has a large hydro generator (largest in the world when first built). Hydro is not common on the River because the River changes height quite slowly.

The Day's ride concluded with ice cream at the MooMoo cafe. They also had a vibrating Lazy-Boy type recliner that gave free massages . . . the concensus is that ABBike needs to get one, carry it in the trailer, and plug it in every night.

posted 2005-08-20 | 22:30:42 | article number: 8

Day 8--Sunday, Aug. 21--Keokuk to Hannibal, MO; 61 miles; 2,500 feet of climb
What beautiful weather! Sunny with a few high clouds, no wind, and temperatures in the 70s to 80s. Except for the bicycles, traffic was almost zero, being Sunday. In other words, it was a great day for a bicycle ride.

We started out climbing out of the River flood plain at Keokuk, IA, and spent the first 15 miles on the flat Illinois farmland. Corn and beans, both of which stressed by a drought. Some of the corn looked severely damaged. Then we dropped back down on a curvy road which suddenly opened up into a magnificent view of the flood plain which was at least 3 miles wide and flat as a pancake. We stayed at this lower elevation for the rest of the day, except for the bridge crossing into Hannibal, Missouri.

As most of us arrived at lunchtime, we had plenty of time to tour this interesting city. Several people reported that they thought they saw Mark Twain. At least we know that Gabe saw him as Katen caught him in the photo above. One of Mark�s oft repeated quotes is: "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live." A couple of riders got white-wash on their jerseys when they saw a guy painting a fence and he was having so much fun they joined in.

Down at the shoreline was a huge levee protecting Hannibal. There were two large metal doors that were used to close the levee opening when the River floods. A sign showed that the record 1993 flood almost reached the top; the River was in flood stage for 3 months . . . awesome indeed.

posted 2005-08-21 | 16:53:38 | article number: 9

Day 9 -- Mon., Aug. 22-- Hannibal to St Charles, MO; 96 miles, 3,940 feet of climb
Nine days of riding, and everyone arrived in St Charles safely without any scrapes or bumps. Congratulations to the excellent ABBike staff for their fantastic support and guidance, along with their superior tips on safe bicycle touring.

This was a day of variation. We started from Hannibal, Missouri and stayed in Missouri all day. Shortly after start, riders began the first of three climbs from the flood plain to the bluffs. This first climb was not steep so was easy, and the view at the top was fantastic . . . a magnificent view of the River. And, of course, the downhills after each climb were exhilarating. Riders reached Louisiana in a little over an hour � Louisiana, MO that is. After Louisiana, we dropped into the plain and stayed there for the rest of the day with the highway bridges being the highest points. It was beginning to heat up, so the Elsberry Subway shop got a lot of lunch business from the cyclists.

The names in this part of the country are unusual . . . the towns of O�Fallon, Annada, Dameron, and Blue Rose; and natural sites named Slim Island, Coon Island, Forgey Pond, Saltpeter Bluff, Fools Creek, and Monkey Run, to name but a few.

In 1993 the Mississippi River flooded and most of the flood plain area was covered with 10 feet of water. A sign read �It is called Flood Plain because it is plain it floods � 1993.� It was dry when we cycled through.

At the end of our near-century day, we cycled into St. Charles and said goodbye to 11 new cycling friends, all of whom were sad to leave such a fun-loving group and great ride. We will miss them indeed. Several mentioned that they were hoping that Northwest Airlines (presently on strike) cancelled their flights home so that they could instead bike with us at least to Memphis.

After good-byes, Ride Leader Wengren gave riders a handout on Southern foods and explained such delectables as grits, hominy, catfish, hushpuppies, fried green tomatoes, BBQ, greens, jambalya, Mississippi mud pie, and Crawfish etouffee. Daco, being Dutch, was particularly interested in this session.

posted 2005-08-23 | 17:43:16 | article number: 10

On to Page 2 St. Charles, MO to Memphis, TN (The Great Central River Ride)
On to Page 3 Memphis, TN to New Orleans, LA (The Great Southern River Ride)

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