“You cycled all the way around Lake Pepin?” was the astonished reaction. Yes, and we had a great time doing it! The Tour de Pepin is just that – a 72 mile cycling tour (not race) around the famed widening in the Mississippi River that is known as Lake Pepin. The ride provided prolific panoramic views of the lake, charming historic towns, impressive river bluffs, and beautiful spring flowers along the route. In a word, scenic. And we had a gloriously sunny day on which to enjoy the whole experience.
Coming from a background of running marathons, I had to readjust my expectations in terms of event logistics for a cycling tour. Rather than traveling on a closed course, we shared the local 2-lane highways circling the lake with car traffic. However, my skepticism was quickly allayed, finding generous shoulders on nearly the whole route, which provided a comfortable margin for cyclists. Instead of rushing through water stops for only enough time to sip without choking, we took advantage of the rest stops to dismount, wiggle any stiffness out of our bodies, refill our water bottles, grab a snack and chat with other cyclists. Socializing was half the fun! There were no mile markers to chart our progress, but the route was well signed and mileage was posted at each rest stop. Besides, we had our Garmin GPS watches to tell us how far we’d come. The one odd dissimilarity came at the end. While we didn’t expect roaring crowds or need a finisher’s medal, we did feel a sense of let-down finding only a few leftover refreshments on a small table dwarfed by the event awning – and not a single person. Granted, we had been well supported along the way, but we were looking forward to that final opportunity to exchange experiences with other participants. Perhaps such is the nature of tours, where the two-hour starting window narrows the flow of finishers down to a dribble.
Personally, I think this view overstates the case – yes, it was long and steep, but it was very doable, even for a new cyclist like myself. But it does make for a dramatic story! And best of all, the rest stop on the other side featured free ice cream cones, courtesy of Flat Pennies Ice Cream in Bay City. That was the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted!
For cyclists wanting the scenery, but not the full distance, there are 32-mile and 50-mile routes available. They also feature a ride on the Pearl of the Lake Paddlewheel boat across Lake Pepin back to the start. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that they don’t have to do that monster hill. But they miss out on the ice cream.