Friday, June 23, 2006

Paul's Ride Home

Paul made it safely home to Cedar Rapids. He writes about the trip below, with a few comments by me to clarify things:

I don't need Stainless Steel tools, [I'd emailed Paul a link to Steritool telling him he needs some $20-each stainless steel allen wrenches] but I do need to take a full length 5 mm allen wrench on tour. I tried to move my seat forward and the bolt was so tight I could not move it with the short wrench on my mini tool. I stopped at a nice bike shop near Fountain City, WI and borrowed a wrench. More on that later.

Like it or not, here is a stroke by stroke report of my trip home. I ended up riding all the way home rather than stopping at the Scout camp. I'm glad I rode home since it would have been no fun sitting wet and tired through the night's events. The route I took was 452 km (280 miles) long at an average speed of 24 kph (14.9 mph). Of course, that distance does not include the St Paul to south of Prescott distance, which would add almost 40 miles, I would guess. My route was WI 35 to La Crosse, where I stayed overnight, cross the Mississippi, Highway 26 to Lansing, lots o' hilly back roads to Elkader, where I stayed Tuesday night, then more hills to Manchester, then flat back roads to Cedar Rapids Wednesday. My average speed was close to what I expected. I plan for 25 kph average on a tour like this if there is no wind. On Monday I had a tailwind, but headwinds on Tuesday and Wednesday for a net +1 headwind-days. Also, I was taking it real easy on the hills onacounta my knee. I'd just jam it in my lowest gear (34 x 28 or 32 inch) and spin up the hills. I made it home, but my knee still hurts.

Overall, I think the St Paul-Winona-Decorah-Cedar Rapids route is better simply because is it shorter and no less scenic. However, I'm glad I rode this new route since I have never ridden most of these roads before.

You know the WI 35 route well so I won't spend too much time describing it. I paid careful attention to the North slope of the Bay City hill and it is no wonder I did not remember it before the Three Speed Tour. The steepest part is a little bit of 5% grade, with some 4%, a lot of 3%, and a lot of 1 and 2%. I would guess it averages 3% or less. By the time I got to that hill, my knee was warmed up and it didn't hurt very much.

After eating soup and ice cream in Nelson, my next stop was at that bike shop a little bit South of Fountain City. The place is owned by a 30-something road racer so it has a disproportionately large inventory of road bike stuff. He was in the Men's Amateur race at Stillwater on Sunday. He has a pair of fat sew ups (Del Mundo size, but cotton not silk) [Paul's referring here to Clement Campionato Del Mundo Seta 290g silk sew-ups, which I toured on in 1980 and were considered kind of heavy] that I almost bought but I didn't want to carry them home and I don't need tires. Maybe if he is still in business next year I'll buy them.

South of Winona Rt 35 starts stair stepping East and South on flat but busy roads. At Trempealeau I saw the trailhead of the Great River Off-Road Trail and decided to give it a try. It's crushed rock but definitely rideable with my 23 mm tires. Maybe after a good rain it would be muddy, but on Monday it was fine. It was an exception to my bad luck with bike trails. My only problem was that I got off too soon because I did not know where I was once I got to what I thought was the end of the trail.

La Crosse was uneventful. I didn't go on the brewery tour rather choosing to ice my knee and take drugs. I tried to buy some of the local brew, but I could not find it in a quantity less than a 12 pack. Not wanting to spend the next day hung over, I settled for a 24 oz Miller instead.

The weather forecast for Tuesday did not look good; SE winds and thunderstorms, possibly severe. Crossing the river I picked up Rt 26 south out of La Crescent. Hwy 26 is a really nice road; scenic, no big hills, not much traffic. When I got to Iowa I was afraid that the road would turn to crap because the state roads in Iowa tend to be the worst. I crossed into Iowa and immediately rode into New Albin. Sure enough, the road was bad. But it turned out that it was just the city streets. Once I got out to the state-maintained road, it was very nice. Rt 26 from New Albin to Lansing is a state scenic road so I think the state has spent some money to repave those roads.

In Lansing I stopped for some breakfast and tried to find out about the weather. When I was eating, it started to rain lightly. After I was done eating, the rain let up a bit. I walked over to the Bank across the street to see if the would let me look at the radar on the internet. They had a DTN terminal for public use. The radar showed solid light rain all the way West to Mason City, but nothing severe. Down in Clayton county it looked clear. If I got going (or if I had not spent so much time in Lansing) I might be able to miss it. About three miles down county X42, just as I was beginning the climb out of the Mississippi river valley, it started to sprinkle. By the time I got out of the valley, it was a steady rain, and I was soaked. Still, I was warm enough and my knee felt OK. But it kept raining harder and harder. The worst was when I was crossing the Yellow River on X26. It's a steep descent (9% in sections) and the wind was gusty. I almost lost it going down.

By the time I got to Monona I was just crawling down the road, it was raining, and my knee hurt. The only place I could find to eat in Monona was a greasy spoon that only served hot dogs and hamburgers. My goal for the day was Elkader, but I was not sure if I was going to make it there. But for some reason when I left Monona I felt much better. I guess it was the chili dog I ate. I had to ride about 2 miles on Hwy 18 which really, really sucks. One truck would not move over to pass me; he just blew his horn. That was the first time in a long time I have had to take the (unpaved) shoulder.

The rest of the way to Elkader was uneventful, but slow The rain let up but the wind picked up. I did see the max grade (10%) on my trip South when I rode through St Olaf. By the time I got to Elkaker I was ready to stop.

Wednesday's forecast was rain and SW winds; another fun day in the saddle. No wonder this bicycle touring thing hasn't really caught on. When I started riding at 5:30 it was already windy. That sucks. Plus, I had to start the day with some big hills. It seems that if I can get my knee warmed up slowly, it does not hurt too bad. There is no chance of doing that around Elkader. I rode down through Littleport which is quite a lovely ride except for the knee and the headwind. At least it had not started to rain yet.

I made it all the way to Manchester before the rain caught me. A brief downpour that stopped just as I got to a cafe for breakfast. I ate, and got about 4 miles out of town before it started raining again. Rained all the way to Cedar Rapids. I rode the whole stretch non-stop; I just wanted to get home.

Not the best trip I have ever had, but it could have been worse. I didn't get hurt and my knee held up OK. My knee feels much better today and I think a week off the bike is all it needs. Next year I'm going to get more miles in before this trip.



If you have an interest in riding the Great River Road in Wisconsin, you might want to look at these maps which have detailed instructions, distances and hills. The complete map is 3.8 Meg, or you can do it by sections.

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