Mad dogs, and Englishmen
Note: I've got to go to Iowa this Memorial Day weekend, and won't have time to fully illustrate the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour, so am posting a smattering of the photos here. I'll come back and fill in later and, when done, announce it for the breathlessly waiting world, but for the moment, here was my experience of the Tour.
Paul and I got up early Saturday and drove down to Red Wing, arriving right at 7:30 and mingling with the gathering crowd. This was really good; I'd met a few of these guys at the regular monthly Monday Booze-Ups at Barley John's, I knew others from the blogosphere or from our former church, and met others for the first time. It doesn't take much to get a conversation going when you are nattily dressed and have a cool bike. I'll do a separate entry later with lots of bike details for the equipment-inclined, this will be mostly about the ride.
The Tour eventually set off at about 9:00. Paul and I immediately fell behind the rest of the tour when we, in what we consider the proper spirit of the tour, went directly to a bakery. This is a photo using the tail camera we threw together last night.
Paul seeking kolaches in Red Wing.
After this delay, we crossed the Mississippi River (and the passing Amtrak train, late as usual) after everyone else, catching up at the first historical marker. The whole Tour would be like this, the bikes like a flock of swallows moving in a disorganized yet somehow coherent mass from roost to roost.
Once we set off from the Bow and Arrow stop, I tried out the tail camera again. Here's Karl and Paul behind me. Note Karl's thin tyres.
...and Terry Osell:
This is the tail camera in position:
I used a Canon A530 with the self-timer programmed for a six-second delay, after which it would take two pictures. I had to lean back to trigger it, then stabilize the bike while the camera counted down. Saturday was the day to do this, as the cyclists were front-lit by the sun (they'd be backlit Sunday morning). Experience showed that I needed to have people closer to me and that mounting the camera vertically would be a good idea for many pictures. I'd still like to have a remote release I could trigger from the handlebars, something I'll probably fiddle with this summer.
The big ordeal of the ride was to be the Bay City Hill, just south of Bay City Wisconsin on Highway 35. This is a long climb out the river valley up to the heights. I took this photo of the riders strung out along the road.
I made it all the way without walking, though I did stop in the rarefied air of the upper elevations to remove my blue wool blazer and roll up my sleeves. I think most people rode all the way, much more of an achievement if you had the original gearing and not the larger cogs/lower gears Paul and I had gone to. Everyone gathered at the top to await the whole Tour, then did what they call the Bay City Plummet, down the other side. I prudently removed my Panama hat and Paul took it down in his basket. Without computers, it's hard to know precisely how fast we went, but it was probably a solid 30+ mph. You roll out nicely into a Lake Pepin overlook. Here Joanne rolls in; she's a Resident at the Mayo Clinic and rode the whole Tour in a skirt and heels. I like how the motorcyclists in the upper right hand corner can't keep their eyes off the fetching young lass.
I've been doing photography for more than 30 years, and from time to time you get a photograph you've taken and look at it later and think, what the hell was that? This is one of those photos:
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, after the exuberance of the fast descent down the Bay City Plummet, a dance routine broke out. Jon Sharratt is doing The Robot on the left, Carrie is doing the little-known Washington-Crossing-the-Delaware in the background, Paul is stylin' up front and Casey is doing the always-challenging Riverdance-while-straddling-the-bike in the right background.
Having calmed down, we rode down to the Lake Pepin marker. I waited until a Lycra-clad racing cyclist got done taking a leak behind the sign before taking Paul's photo. As with virtually all the photos in my blog, if you click on the picture, you'll get a bigger image and, in this case, you'll be able to read the sign's text.
After bustling about for a bit, we rode on into Maiden Rock and parked the bikes. The Smiling Pelican Bakery was somewhat overwhelmed by all of us but fortunately we're not in a hurry. Here are some of the bikes out front:
I had a sandwich and a piece of pie in the garden, Paul snoozed, the whole Tour lay about in disorder. After a while I heard a group getting ready to do the Maiden Rock climb, which a local rider said was more direct if we went up County AA. I thought this sounded good, but then couldn't find this group. I assumed they'd left already (never a safe assumption on this tour) so Paul and I decided to just head out on our own and off we went. We turned off onto AA, which then turns to County E and climbs this total bugger of a hill. Even with the low gearing it was a complete slog and I had to tack my way up the hill. I stopped once to rest but eventually dragged myself over the top. Paul, a stronger rider, was already up there. The county roads in Wisconsin are brilliant, and one chap later said it was because it's a dairy state and the roads have to support the weight of milk trucks out to all these farms. We rode merrily along and realized we had no idea where the Maiden Rock turnoff was. We could tell there was a wedding reception up ahead, though, and thought about stopping in, dressed in white shirts and ties (and Paul in knickers, me in trousers). We could be the crazy uncles! A chap driving by asked what we were doing, and told us where to turn to the Maiden Rock overlook. We rode down the gravel road to a little information stand. We were the first there, no other tracks in the road. The map in the stand showed a trail loop of maybe 1.5 miles. We decided to go and thought we'd just ride our bikes. We headed off to the trail to the left.
This turned out to be something of a tactical error. We rode about 100 feet of increasingly technical descending singletrack before dismounting and walking. We rode a couple of other bits, but mostly walked the bikes down and then back up a series of steep ravines. Paul's chain snagged on a log or something and came off. We eventually emerged into a flat spot where a bunch of trees had been cut down. Here he fixed his chain. We remounted and rode another 50 yards before the trail once again plunged down a ravine, the brook at the bottom of which we had to cross on a log. Finally we came up into a nice meadow with a good view and took some photos.
Paul atop the Maiden Rock overlook.
Me atop the Maiden Rock overlook. An Indian princess flung herself off here. She had taken an inappropriate lover from another tribe or something, and her father wanted to marry an older warrior from her own tribe, so she pitched a fit and leapt off the cliff. After the slog up the hill and then our jungle trek I had the same thought, but in modern times there's a bar in Stockholm and a cold beer sounded better than a death plunge, so we carried on. The trail meandered off through a field of dandelions. Paul rode ahead and I got this photo of him.
Later, others in the Tour would refer to the dandelion field trail as the 'rough stuff', but it was as nothing compared to the rest of the loop.
We emerged out of the field and found about 25 Tour members gathered at the kiosk, having just arrived. We warned them off going to the left. Dribbles of them began riding out to the right, through the field to the overlook. Paul and I were thirsty and decided to go on into Stockholm, and rode back out the gravel road to County E and then down the Plunge off Maiden Rock at probably 40+ mph into Stockholm. As I rolled through town I saw other Three Speed Tourists and rang my bell at them. We went to a bar and sat on the deck where Paul had lunch and I drank a pint while other Tourists trickled in, fresh off careening headlong down the Plunge off Maiden Rock the bluff's South Face or having cruised in on the flats from Maiden Rock the town. An occasional raindrop fell on us. A couple from Illinois, Scott and Carrie, joined us at our table. They'd done the Tour last year as well, when it was quite damp, yet were here again and apparently about to get married next week. Gotta hang on to a woman who'll put up with this stuff!
By now it was about 2:00 and we'd gone, oh, maybe 25 miles. The pace of the Tour takes some getting used to if you're usually a serious rider.
We seemed to be done with our food and drink at a different time than the others. Some had already ridden out ahead of us, nobody else was ready just yet, so Paul and I set off again. It is these stretches, when we rode by ourselves, that we looked most like Mormon missionaries out to convert the heathen Badgers. We toddled along to Pepin. Cor blimey, 7 miles of flat terrain with a tailwind, that was brutal, time for a beer, mate! Anyone who thought we might have been Mormons was soon disavowed of that notion as we sat on the sidewalk having a pint and, for me anyway, smoking a pipe.
While sitting there the fetching Joanne came riding through with some accompaniment. They shared a pint and left some in their bottle, which I added to my glass. Cheers! Smoking the pipe took a lot of attention; I don't do this normally, it's just for effect. One chap borrowed my multi-tool to adjust his saddle; every time you needed a tool or part, many individuals would proffer their stuff, some of it probably vintage. The others drifted off to walk down by the docks and check out a restaurant called The Pickle Factory; some Tourists were victualling there, it turned out.
After a while, we decided to go. Crowds were assembling to get seats at the Harborview Cafe, a terrific but tiny restaurant that doesn't take reservations, and one guy asked me if we were riding for charity. Nope, I said, just for fun, on English three speed bikes. His wife volunteered that she'd loved her three-speed. They are pretty unintimidating, and they get you away from the expectation of speed and the anxieties of gear choice and bring a pure enjoyment to riding. It's not that you can't get it on modern bikes, but it's different somehow on these.
We set off southbound for Nelson. A couple of others caught up with us as we rode in, a bit of rain causing a weird, low rainbow. We stopped at the Nelson Cheese Factory, already well-staffed with Tourists, and had an ice cream. People drifted off in small groups. The whole day was like that. Several of us set off together and rode towards Wabasha across the causeway and bridge. I stopped to put my hat in Paul's Toto Basket, anxious that it shouldn't blow off into the Mississippi. We had to wait for an ambulance to pass by, then over the humpy bridge and into Wabasha. We went down to the Wabasha Hotel and RV Park and checked in, right about 6:00, 9 hours and about 44 miles after setting out. What a great time.
That evening we rode over to the Eagle's Nest Coffee House where a terrific potluck dinner was put on by the Wabasha Cycling Club. We drank beer, we ate food, we listened to music and chatted up the charming Danaca. Eventually Paul and I rode off, to buy combs (we'd both forgotten them) and the ingredients for gin and tonics, for the morrow.
Sunday morning we rode back to the Eagle's Nest for a delicious breakfast. Breakfast went from about 7 until 9:30 at which point someone rode off dinging their bell. Like lost sheep the whole Tour mounted up and rode along after them. We were off!
It was chilly, a high of only 58 in Saint Paul that day, and we had a light but persistent headwind. Jon Sharratt led a handful of us through Read's Landing as others plugged along above and to the left on Highway 61 itself. Here Jon points out some attraction as we cycle by.
There was a protracted stop at a Geological Marker and then again at the rest area at the south end of Lake City. By this time I had the drill down, and when I decided it was time to move on to the Chickadee Cottage Tearoom for tea, just mounted up and rode off, tinkling my bell. Sure enough, a heap of people roused themselves, hopped on their bikes, and followed.
The Chickadee Tearoom was a dead loss. We were hoping for a cream tea; pots of tea, scones, lashings of clotted cream and perhaps strawberries. I love these things. Well, we couldn't be served on the porch; after some delay, eight of us managed to get seated by a hostess langourous even by the standards of the Three Speed Tour; we wanted cream teas; they don't do tea and scones on Sundays; surely you have scones for sale in the bakery case? Yes, but that's just for takeout. We can do tea and a cinammon roll. So, wait, we can buy a scone and take it with us, but we can't be served a scone in this (overheated and stuffy) room? Yes. So we settled for tea and a cinammon roll like you hurriedly buy a box of at Cub Foods on the way to work when you've forgotten it's Food Day. Next year, make note, get your scone to go, then get seated and just order tea. Or better yet, maybe I'll bring along a stove and we can brew up our own bloody tea. Paul did buy a scone and some shortbread on the way out. The actual tea, the beverage, was pretty good (though we had to request milk rather than half and half). The Chickadee has done a good job of replicating indifferent English service and baffling English rules.
The Tour was scattered again; some riders were going to try a low-along-the-bluff-base alternative to Highway 61; some were eating down at the lake front. A small group of us decided we would ride 61 down to the optional Old Frontenac turnoff. So, with a tinkling of bells, we set off.
Paul and Joanne and I rode together for a while. She was a strong rider even in heels and a skirt. At one point I was riding sort of alongside her with my head down to keep the hat on my head and rode right into a set of rumble strips. They're subtle in a car, eight on the Richter scale on a bike! Less than a mile from the turnoff I briefly looked up and the wind caught my Panama hat and blew it off! Clothing Malfunction!! Red Alert!!
I slowed and turned around as Joanne and Paul rode on. My hat had landed on the verge and was sitting there. I hoped like the dickens it wouldn't blow into the highway, where a line of cars was coming and I hastened back to get it. If those cars hit it it would only be good for was making birds' nests! Luckily, it didn't move and I got to it. Whew! I wedged it back on my head as another cluster of Tourists approached. I rode with them towards the turnoff. Joanne rode right on in, not stopping to read the signs (perhaps chasing after Kevin from Hiawatha and a group he was with who had been ahead of us half a mile or so) and I never saw her, or Kevin and his group, again. Several of us stopped to read the markers and then wandered into Old Frontenac. Here is Andy, whose last name I don't know:
This is Andy's Dad.
I gather that Andy's Dad isn't a cyclist, normally, but was doing this with Andy.
We rode into the very quiet little village, a world apart from the noise of the Highway. A nice house was for sale; $775,000. That's the cost of solitude. It was extremely quiet, with just us Three Speed Tourists in evidence, and one resident on a front porch. We dawdled for a couple of minutes, then our little group began heading out of town. Paul wanted to use a Port-a-Loo so I waited while the others carried on. When he was done, I stopped again to take a picture of the Episcopal church, then we set off.
There was an alternate route we could take rather than go right back to 61, we'd seen it at the map at the turnoff. We found what looked to be the road, Hill Avenue, a gravel road, and took it. Some distance ahead we could see the other Tourists who'd been with us.
We eventually caught up to them at the Hill Avenue hill. This steep section towards the top got most of us off our bikes, including me. After my display of mountain climbing up the Maiden Rock hill yesterday my left knee hurt and I didn't want to push it. Paul, though, plowed right on up on the Handjob.
Several of us set off down the hill together. It was steep turning gravel. What better thing to do that take a picture with the tail camera?
Or maybe not.
Ironic that I almost always wear a helmet when I ride, except these two days, and now I've done two fast descents on paved roads, taken on difficult single track on a top-heavy bike and was heretrying a fast curving descent on gravel. Karl, his bike loaded with gear (he had camped) rolled past me. I got cautious and dragged my rear brake a bit. Up ahead, Karl pulled up lame. I slowed down. He had a flat on his front tire. Would you like me to stay? Yeah, if you wouldn't mind. OK, let me pass the message on down.
Andy had seen that something was wrong and had stopped. I rode down to him and said why don't you carry on but take the message down that we have a flat up here and it'll be a while. OK, he said, and rode off down the hill. I wouldn't see him or his father again. I rode back up to Karl. He was looking for something to lean the bike against. There's a little bridge down there, I said, so he walked the bike down and leaned it against the railing and began working on the tire.
I parked my bike and offered helpful suggestions ("You ought to ride heavier tires"). I think Karl had just thrown his bike together at the last minute, like me, and he had on 700C X 25s, kind of light for loaded descents on gravel. Still what's the rush.
Then I heard it.
A low, repetitive noise that got faster and faster, and then stopped. It was very deep. There was a huge old tree leaning over the bridge. Did you hear that? No, says Karl, what? He was too busy fixing his tire to notice. Oh well.
Then I heard it again. Karl heard it this time too. We both looked around. I looked at the huge tree. This bridge would be toast if that tree fell on it. I moved my bike to the downhill side. The noise repeated again, and then again, every minute or two.
Paul showed up. Andy and his Dad had left for Red Wing and he got bored with waiting so rode back up the hill. We described the weird noise to him. Yeah yeah, whateve...hey, what's that?
Paul suggested it might be a Troll. The bridge looked like it might be Troll-Haunted, though so far nobody had made any demands. Karl was getting his wheel back on. It had been a pinch flat, and he'd put in a new tube. Now he bravely decided to go after one of the tire irons he'd dropped off the bridge. He clambered down and began looking for it. Hey, he called up, there's a dead animal down here. Probably the Troll's doing. A rabbit? No, more like dog-sized. It's mostly bones. Maybe a coyote. He threw a legbone up onto the the bridge, spinning like the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey. He climbed back up through, it turned out, some nettles, and inadvertently dropped the tire iron back. As he as standing there rubbing his nettle-y skin, a cyclist came down the hill. It was one of us, Chris, from California, who has his own excellent photos posted here
We all stood around chatting. We described the noise to Chris and sure enough, it happened again. It was really low-frequency. Wow, that's weird he said, and looked at the huge tree, and prudently moved his bike out of the way. Karl was repacking everything, including the bone. After a few minutes and a couple of more noise incidents, probably 45 minutes after having flatted, we set off down the hill. More fast gravel rolling out to Highway 61. Surely the Tour must have passed us by now, either on Highway 61 or on the Highways 2/5 inland loop. We were standing around in the manner that every intersection seems to require on this ride when I looked up the hill and saw about 10 more Tourists barreling down the hill. More appeared, in twos and threes, over the next few minutes until about 25 of us were gathered at Highway 61. On this Tour, you should never assume there's nobody behind you!
Larry and his natty outfit.
Jon Sharratt, one of the founders of this Tour, was among them:
We all stood around happily chatting and comparing notes about where we'd been. Jon had never ridden that road before though a couple of other Tourists had, including Carrie who's getting married next week.
Lila was there. At this point, I didn't know her, but Paul and I would have dinner with her later. She had a straw hat on as well, but she cleverly had done a scarf arrangement to keep it on so hers wouldn't blow off like mine had.
The chattering went on for about 10 minutes and I thought, time to go, so mounted up, dinged my bell, and set off. Sure enough, pretty much the whole pack mounted up as well and followed. My plan was to drift back through the Tour shooting away with the tail camera, but Larry called out that it was aimed too low. I pulled over to look; he was right, but nearly the whole Tour paraded by as I fiddled with it until a break opened up and I could ride back in. I got a picture of Terry from Sibley Bike Depot but missed the rest of the pack.
I wasn't about to try and overtake the group on Highway 61, so rode along behind with Becki Persons. It seemed to me that her gearing was awkward, third (which she was riding) a little too high, second a little too spinny. Still, what's the rush, and we pottered along behind the main group into the southern outskirts of Red Wing.
The first riders in turned left across the highway onto a city street that was quieter and, like a flock of swallows, almost the whole group broke after them. Here is one of the Tour co-founders, Noel Robinson, cruising into Red Wing:
Another rider, whose name I don't know, powering into the turn.
We rolled down the street, through downtown and along the riverfront past the marina. A couple of kids called out, asking if this was some sort of marathon; Paul laughed; no, he said to me, a marathon would cover the distance faster. We rode up into the parking lot where a couple of riders had already arrived but not left yet. Our whole group came rolling in. We dismounted and Paul and I got out our flasks of whiskey, had a toast, and passed them around to others to have a celebratory snort.
Reluctantly, things seemed to be coming to an end. Some people, especially those driving some distance, began to pack up right away, taking apart their bikes and stowing them in their cars. A couple of more riders came in. There was talk of food; I was interested in this, being very peckish at this point, the Chickadee's cinammon roll having long since worn off. Jon mentioned Hors'd'Oeuvres on Main Street. What the heck, we're on bikes, so Paul and I rode up there. Closed. Maybe the Blue Moon Coffeehouse. It was small and didn't have a real food menu. At this point, Lila (spelling?) rode up in her blue dress. She'd just mooched a three-speed yesterday and ridden today. We all rode over to the excellent Stag's Head Bar; closed. What's with this town? I bike toured in England in 1980 and in those days lots of stuff was closed on Sundays. I think I had two Mars Bars for dinner one wet day. Maybe Red Wing's restaurants are participating in making the Three Speed Tour feel authentic. Finally, we went to Liberty Pizza, which was open. We got a table for eight, parked the bikes outside, and went in and ordered.
Nobody joined us. That's ok, the three of us had dinner and a couple of beers and a good chat. Lila rang someone from Wabasha to come and pick her up. Her borrowed bike badly needed some work. We settled up, bid farewell to Lila, and rode back through town. There were some Three Speed Tourist vehicles in front of the Blue Moon. Oh well. Back to the parking lot, which was down to three cars, one with the Sibley guys mounting their bikes on it. They'd been to the Blue Moon as well.
We said farewell, put our bikes in the truck, climbed in and left. Our Three Speed Tour was over.
At this point, I have to say thank you to Noel and Jon. On one hand, they don't provide much (no hotel bookings, sag wagons, tech support, sponsors, police escorts. parade permits) but on the other hand, it's a brilliantly conceived event. They scouted the route, did the great guidebooks, arranged for the dinner and breakfast and luggage van and set exactly the right spirit. It is a tour unlike any other I've been on, no Important Cause, no big cycling egos, no Gruppo one-upmanship, no real agenda, just a free-flowing, easy-going ride with a bunch of fun people. It was a great couple of days. I'll be back next year! I'm sure many others will, too, and that this will get larger, which is nice in a way if people take it in the right spirit but not important either.
If this type of good-natured langour, stately pace, chatty companionship and excellent scenery appeal to you, you might want to consider coming along next year. If it sounds too excruciatingly slow and disorganized, well, we'll ding our bells and wave as you pass us by and drink to your health in the next town.
PS I later did a Google Map Pedometer on the route and figured we rode 44 miles, including the Maiden Rock loop, on Saturday, and about 33 miles, including the Old Frontenac loop, on Sunday. This took 9 hours and about about 7 hours.
PPS The Ruffed Grouse Society
says "The male grouse proclaims his property rights by engaging in a 'drumming' display. This sound is made by beating his wings against the air to create a vacuum, as lightning does when it makes thunder." I don't know, I still think it was a Troll. Grouse don't kill coyotes.