Texas Roadside Sights

The closer we get to the hill country, the better the scenery. Or perhaps it's that the winds have abated somewhat and we are able to raise our heads and actually take in what's around us. I think it's some of both, really, but either way it has been a visual treat.

This is what cycle touring is all about. Traveling the countryside at 12 mph, stopping to see things along the way, taking pictures and meeting local folk. However, I'm not always the most observant cyclist. Sometimes I get too absorbed in pedaling along and forget to take in what's around me. So when I lost Rich this morning and had to double back to find him, I was given a second chance to see what I'd missed. He'd spotted a young donkey with its mother in a field. Although they were wandering away by the time I got there, I still had time to watch them. Just beyond, the adjacent farmhouse had two peacocks perched on the garage roof. I'd totally missed those the first time as well. At another stopping point, a dead tree first attracted Rich as he thought it harbored a bird. I thought the tree itself was more interesting.

Passing through tiny towns that barely make it on the map, it's a sure bet they have one or more nice churches. We have found their grounds to be pleasant resting spots. It's debatable whether there will be any businesses open. Today, we were lucky to find an all purpose general store. Purchasing a few snack items led to questions about our trip and some fun conversations.

One ubiquitous sight that consistently compells us to stop is Dairy Queen. There is nothing better than ice cream after a long hot day of cycling. And it's the one time we can indulge without a single pang of guilt. In Goldthwaite the manager was very interested in our trip and was eager to help us out. We left with a fistful of coupons for free dip cones! We cashed in the first pair the very next afternoon.

But back to the roadside. With each passing mile the wild flowers become more abundant. Not knowing if the varieties varied by locale, I finally took the time to stop and capture as many of them as I could.

Of course the most famous and plentiful flowers are the bluebonnets. The patches grow larger and thicker the further south we travel, and along with their volume comes the fragrance. On a bicycle, it's much more than just a roadside sight – it's a feast for all the senses.


The Second Century

After the cold and wet weekend, it was hard to believe the forecast for a beautiful sunny day on Monday.  Crossing our fingers, my friend Myra and I planned our second annual Century Ride, and were pleased when the weatherman was right for once.

Brimson Century Ride MapOur inaugural 100-mile bike ride last summer was a flat out and back ride on a smooth bike trail.  A good start for novices.  This year we took on a more ambitious route.  We wanted a circle tour with nice scenery, good roads and little traffic.  We quickly settled on the little town of Brimson for our destination, and by manipulating the course with a few detours to add mileage, we finally came up with a good route.  My husband Rich warned that it was too hilly for such a long ride, but that only solidified our determination to stick with the plan.

The good news was that we did most of our hill work at the outset.  Before the sun had an IMG_0114opportunity to heat up the day, we had the bulk of our climbing behind us.  Once inland, we only had rolling hills, and those created more interest than nuisance.  It was a very green route, lined by trees and with little other variation besides the wildflowers blooming on the wayside.  We had hoped to see the numerous lakes that line Pequaywn Lake Road, but they were hidden by those same trees.  However, we did enjoy the unique mailbox that confirmed there must be a lake nearby!

Lunchtime brought us to Brimson, which conveniently happened to be our half-way point.  We didn’t find much evidence of a town, but Hugo’s Bar and General Store provided shade for our picnic as we refueled for the next leg our of ride.

Having attained a nice altitude, our Brimson Century Ride elevationspayback came on our descent into Two Harbors.  It was a straight shot down toward Lake Superior, but it wasn’t as smooth sailing as expected.  We found ourselves pedaling straight into a stiff wind which checked our pace.  I didn’t mind.  It saved wear and tear on my brakes.  On the intermittent uphills Myra admitted to drafting behind me, but somehow I doubt I was much of a windbreak.

We were surprised how quickly the miles mounted up behind us.  Without any major sights to distract us, we took just a few breaks for food and to replenish our water supplies.  Our final rest was a requisite DQ stop in Two Harbors.  After all, what’s the purpose of cycling if we don’t have ice cream?  Heading down the Scenic Highway back to Duluth, we welcomed the slightly cooler breezes delivered by Lake Superior.  By that time we were counting down the miles – not that we were tired or anything…

It felt good to finish, with a great sense of accomplishment.  And we were still smiling!  IMG_0117

Myra, as well as our son Carl, will be joining Rich and me for the first week of our Grand Gaspé Cycling tour later in the summer.  On that trip we will need to push on, day after day, regardless of what the weatherman delivers.  No matter how relentless the hills.  Whatever the road conditions.  I think we can handle it.

A Perfect Cycling Grand Finale

Day 8 Northfield to Shakopee v2

Day 8 – Northfield to Shakopee 48 miles

Our last day of the Upper Mississippi River Cycling Tour.  Even after seven straight days of cycling, I was sad to see our trip nearing completion.  On the other hand, I was eagerly looking forward to the 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration that awaited us at the end of the road.

It wasn’t the most beautiful day, with clouds overhead and temperatures in the low 50s, but a day earlier the forecast was for rain, so I considered it a good day!  The winds had picked up too, but fortunately they were mostly behind us – a treat after all the headwinds we’ve had on this trip.

IMG_1172My head was definitely in a different place today.  It wasn’t the same as the other days of our tour, when we were fully in the mode, taking in all the sights and making the most of the journey.  Today was really all about the destination.  Sure the farms were picturesque, we enjoyed the cows and horses in their pastures, and we had a tasty stop at Patty’s Place for a IMG_1168snack in New Prague.  But we were eager to reach the end.

The closer we got to the outskirts of the Twin Cities, the more the farmhouses looked like suburban homes.  They looked a bit incongruous in the center of large working farms.  We encountered our first lake with about 10 miles to go.  We’d seen plenty of rivers and ponds, but no true Minnesota lakes.  We were zeroing in on home territory.

As planned, we rode to our daughter’s house where all of our children, grandchildren and a few close friends were gathered.  We had a lively welcoming party, as they cheered us down the final street to the house.  The afternoon was pure enjoyment, surrounded by those we love.  It was filled with much laughter, many hugs, good food and warm feelings.Cheering squadArrivalFamily on arrivalKaren and conesOur kids collaborated on not only the party, but the entertainment.  In true Brewer style (ie my family’s tradition) they collectively authored an epic poem, which they recited with great animation to commemorate our lives together – meeting, dating, marrying, birthing and parenting.  It was an amazing piece of work and an hysterical tribute.  Karen upheld her theme cake decorating reputation, producing Cake Cones in honor of our detour to the Dairy Queen after our wedding 30 years ago.  That called for a re-creation of the scene when we arrived at our reception, cones in hand, linking arms to lick them!

Linking conesThe tour is finished, but the memories will live on.  We had many great moments on our trip – met wonderful people, worked through cycling challenges, appreciated beautiful scenery and appreciated experiencing it all up close from the seat of a bicycle.  But the best memories will be holding tight to our family members and friends at the grand finale.  It was just perfect.

Cycling and Executive Decisions

Day 4 - Prairie du Chien to Caledonia 62 miles

Day 4 - Prairie du Chien to Caledonia 62 miles

By all rights, you should not be reading this post. We are supposed to be in a tent, sans Internet. But we caved. Instead, we are in a modest but well-equipped Mom and Pop motel room. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today we crossed the Mississippi River and headed back North. It started out really well. We were on a much smaller road with little traffic. We were at river level, meaning it was nice and flat. And the wind was finally behind us for a change. The first thing that I noticed was that in Iowa, they managed to squeeze houses, shacks and mobile homes between the railroad tracks and the river. Some of them were wisely built on stilts. I'd just never seen an elevated mobile home before! But it was justified – the river has just come down from flooding its banks, and trees were still marooned in the middle of the river.

Trailers alongside the Mississippi River

Early on we stopped at a National Monument to see some effigy mounds. There we met friendly volunteers, one of whom clued us in to the long, steep hill we were about to climb. We were grateful for the forewarning, as the 3-mile hill lived up to his predictions. What we didn't know was that it was only the first of four such brutal ascents we would face today! Every time we left the edge of the river, it meant a stiff hill to mount the bluffs. As long as we were in river country, that meant a steep downhill back to river level. Rich loved plummeting down at great speed, but to me (who hates speeding down) it was just unravelling all the hard work we'd just done. Our final hill took us inland for our detour into southeastern Minnesota. That time it felt rewarding to stay “up top” for the remainder of the day's ride.

Altitudes of today's ride
Looking back down the hill doesn't do it justice!

We were definitely in the heart of farmland, first in Iowa and then Minnesota. Pretty farm buildings, tilled fields, curious cows and a few horses were the primary features of the landscape. We even set one herd of cows off in a running pack as we passed. Given the quiet country roads, it was a very peaceful ride.

Rich repairing his tire

We managed to spend some extra quality time among the farms while Rich repaired a flat tire on the rear of his bike. It was our first repair job of the trip, and happened as we were closing in on the last major town for the day. While it was a straightforward repair, it did set us behind and Rich in particular was already rather fried from the hill work. (Is this where I mention that considering his 57 years of age and the added burden of carrying camping equipment that he decided it was A-OK to walk up the steepest hills? He said I could… To be fair, then I need also include the fact that I would have been hopeless at replacing that inner tube. So I guess we're even.)

It was at that point when Rich announced he was making an executive decision. We would seek out a modest motel instead of camping tonight. After all, he reasoned, it was our anniversary. Who was I to argue? I did feel a quick pang of regret that we'd given in so easily, but it was easily squelched.

Rich and Molly toasting their 30 years

And so it was that we enjoyed a nice dinner and a bottle of wine to celebrate the occasion this evening. It also gave me the opportunity to drag Rich to the Dairy Queen to consume ice cream cones, just like we did on our wedding day 30 years ago. We have plenty of nights to spend in a tent. I enjoyed the outcome of this executive's decision.


Cycling into Hefty Headwinds

Day 2 - Wabasha to La Crosse 72 miles

Day 2 - Wabasha to La Crosse 72 miles

We said that this trip was to be a test for the longer cycling tour we are doing later this summer. We're trying out carrying the gear and clothes we think we will need for two months. So far so good on that account. Today it was the weather that tested us. After waiting out yet another thunderstorm before setting off this morning, we finally hit the road and ran smack dab into 25 mph headwinds! Since we were cycling through largely open countryside, there was no where to hide from the winds. All we could do was put our heads down, shift down to embarrassingly low gears and pedal like mad.

The only thing worse than cycling into the wind was doing it on an empty stomach. Early on we passing up a breakfast cafe that offered views of a lock and dam but had a waiting line. We should have known better… The following towns had nothing to offer, and our reserves began to run low. I found myself pressing into the wind, counting down the miles to the next town, harboring hopes for a cafe and missing the scenery.

Rich at the Irish pub

When we reached Fountain City we found a wonderful Irish pub with a delightful upstairs patio. Settling down at a shady table for lunch, we soon learned that we were to be well rewarded for the wait. The food was incredibly fresh and well prepared, including the proprietor's grandmother's recipe for potato soup. And boy did it taste good. After that stop, our outlooks improved significantly, the scenery became visible again, and we even tolerated the wind better.

Despite the fact that today's ride was largely over flat terrain, the wind took a huge toll on our forward momentum. The hours passed by and our destination continued to loom far in the distance. The day turned from cloudy to sunny once again, and heated up into the high 80s. But good fortune arrived in the form of a bike trail. After a grueling 50 miles on the road, we headed onto the Great River State Trail. Not only did it shelter us from the wind, but the shade brought welcome relief from the heat. A great combination!

The early section of the trail passed through a National Wildlife Preserve. There we were in the backwaters of the Mississippi, surrounded by wetlands and with tree branches meeting overhead. Birds were in great abundance and the scenery was just beautiful. That gave way to dryer land but continued to protect us all the way to the north edge of La Crosse. What a godsend that was to our weary bodies!

Wetlands alongside the trail
Molly on the bike trail
Molly at the Hungry Peddler restaurant

Bolstered by a stop at a handy Dairy Queen for cones, we made our way across the city – once again counting down the final miles. Nothing ever looked so good as the site of our humble motel for the night. Even better, there was a great vintage restaurant right across the street. We couldn't have asked for more!

I think we passed today's windy test. Regardless, we're not interested in a re-take.


A Not-Quite Century Ride

My friend has been a cyclist for ages. Now that I have taken up cycling, we've been talking all summer about going for a ride together, and today we finally made it happen. Our first hurdle was the start time. She informed me that my proposed time of 6:30am was the middle of the night. I retorted that her 9:00am suggestion was the middle of the day. We compromised on 7:30.

We chose to ride on the Munger Trail. Since the start of the trail was closed due to the flood damage, we drove to Carlton to start there. Numerous times I tried to pin her down on the distance. She was interested in a long ride, but I didn't know what that meant in the context of her cycling experience. So we set off and decided to just see how it went.

Munger Trail

While the start of the Munger Trail climbs out of Duluth, by Carlton it flattens out. We cycled for miles and miles in a long, straight, flat and smooth trajectory. There were few other cyclists on the trail, making it easy to ride side by side and talk the whole way. We have never been known to run out of material to talk about and today was no exception. And as we talked, the miles flew by. It turned out that our paces were perfectly matched, and we were loving the beautiful sunny day which was perfect for flying down the trail.

As the miles mounted, so did our ambition. It was an out and back ride, so we had to judge when we felt we'd gone half way and turn around. That's always tricky – how do you know when you are half spent? Should we set a max, I suggested? Nah, let's just go a little further. There's one hilly spot that's fun to ride – let's not stop before that. As the 40 mile mark loomed, a bigger question presented itself… Should we make this a Century Ride? It suddenly became soooo tempting!

Now I am rarely the one to hesitate when it comes to a challenge. But I have to own up to being the voice of reason this time. It was hot, we'd gotten a late start (!), and I had a husband expecting me back before dinner. So pledging to return for the full century ride soon, we did an about face at around 41 miles. It did give us time to take in a town festival at Willow River, and make the requisite stop at the Dairy Queen in Moose Lake. And neither of us complained when we reached the car at the end of 83 miles.

But next time we won't let that century mark elude us. Even if we have to start earlier to make it.

Wedding Ice Cream

I love ice cream.  Fortunately, I married someone who feels the same way.  We share mugs of ice cream late in the evening, and it’s amazing what we can cram into those vessels.

Yesterday was our 29th wedding anniversary.  We had a picnic, went for a walk, and – of course – completed the evening with a trip to our favorite ice cream shop.

It was a fitting celebration, as we did the same thing 29 years ago.  In between the wedding ceremony and the reception, we made a slight detour – to the Dairy Queen.  It was the old style DQ, where we ordered from the window outside.  The servers were so surprised and enamored with the situation that our ice cream cones were on the house!  We arrived at the reception with our treats, linked arms and licked our cones.

Our daughter was married a few years ago.  Guess where the stretch limo carrying the entire wedding party stopped en route to the reception?  DQ.  It must run in the family.