After getting thwarted last year by late spring flooding, we finally managed a second train/bike 1-day tour to Winona and back this past weekend. The first edition of the ride had only 3 of us, the aborted 2nd attempt last year attracted 5, and this year we were 8. With this kind of growth, RAGBRAI can breathe easy for a few years yet.
We met up at the station early to get the bikes boxed up (the first 5 got free recycled boxes!) and discuss the route for the day. Most of us had ridden a fair amount in the southern Minnesota/Wisconsin area, and while we generally agree that the WI 35 route has the best pie opportunities, we opted for an alternate Minnesota-centric route. Specifically, we aimed straight west toward central Minnesota. Jim and Sean had recently done a tour further south and Jim mapped out some good roads to try on this trip, noting “the good thing about this route is that it has lots of descents!”
That was true enough, for a few miles after our 10:30 departure we were grinding up the first of many hills for the day; most of them seemingly in the 1-2 mile length, which are pretty good climbs for around here. Jim had also promised some gravel, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip for me. I spent years riding gravel roads as a kid, and apparently that paid off, as i was generally off the front once we came to a stretch of gravel road (though by far not the fastest rider of the group).
We had a navigational snag after just the first 15 miles that nixed our plan for a glorious descent into Whitewater state park, but we did get a (rare, for the Sunday of a holiday weekend in a small town) hot meal at Johnny’s Saloon in Elba a little further along. I also got a friendly bit of advice from one of the motor bikers at the bar when the barkeep asked where we were headed. “Minneapolis”, i said. “Don’t get shot”, the burly bike said. “Right, thanks” i said, heading back out into the sun.
Another 15 miles down the road in Plainview, we stopped again for food and ice cream. Bigger groups tend to mean more stopping, and between that and the hills, it was already 7:30 when we stopped at Lake City for dinner at the Subway. Given that, we opted to just ride Hwy 61 rather than the originally planned hilly and gravelly route. 61 is usually pretty busy and unfriendly to bike on this stretch, but it was pretty quiet, being the end of a holiday weekend and the sun low in the sky. It was heading toward dusk when we rolled into Red Wing past the prison and down the hill, lights ablaze.
The Riverfront Park in Red Wing is usually a relaxing stop on these sorts of rides, often a halfway point, and just a nice place to hang out. Given the frequency and length of earlier stops though, we kept this one short, staying just long enough to refill water and add a layer of clothes, then got right on to the Cannon Valley trail. This is a rails-to-trails line, so the going is mostly straight and mostly flat, and we made some good time. Lots of fireflies and bats around kept us company, as did (unfortunately for a couple of them) tiny frogs.
We took a longer rest at the Welch rest area, home of the
worst bathroom in Scotland some mighty smelly toilets and mysteriously, no mosquitoes, while contemplating the next leg of the route. There’s a steep paved hill coming out of Welch that is just no fun, so we opted for the circuitous gravel route, which none of us had actually ridden. It turned out to be fine, and though one of us parted after this stop, seven of us rode on up the winding road to more gravel, then our usual 2-lane paved route into Hastings.
We took another break at a 24-hour grocery store in Hastings at around 12:30, making a fine meal of 2-day-old chocolate long johns, chocolate milk, bananas and ham. It was all delicious, and the cement of the parking lot was increasingly comfortable the longer we stayed, but we pressed onward.
The rest of the ride gets a little hazy; there was talk about trimming ass hair and sleeping in the ditch and speculation on the number of lights required to work at a refinery at night. I finally rolled into home at 4:30, after 148 miles and 10 hours in the saddle.
Things learned for this ride:
Chocolate milk. Amazing stuff for long rides like this. Kent Peterson is totally right. I drank the Quik version when i could find it, because it has sugar instead of corn syrup.
Bring less food. I still ended up with over twice as much food as i needed, and probably 3 lbs of unneeded weight from it.
Always pack a long-sleeve shirt or windbreaker. It gets cold when the sun is gone.
Brooks. There were 8 different kinds of bikes on the ride, but everyone used a model of Brooks saddle, and nobody complained about their butt hurting (or maybe were just quiet about it).
I loved the gravel parts of the ride. Ragnarök 105, here i come (next year).