Tuesday, June 28, 2011

MRT - Jack's write-up

Below is my pastor Jack's summary of the MRT tour. I've removed last names for privacy.

Late Sunday evening around 10:30 PM the crew of bicycle riders and support persons arrived back in Bloomington. We came back from our 400+ mile journey down a section of the northern Mississippi River with some very intense sun tan lines in the strangest of formations and with very strong thigh muscles. We had some bumps and bruises but all returned safely and feeling very accomplished.

Our trip began on June 21st near a dam in a northern suburb of Minneapolis called Coon Rapids. We saw a lot of rapids, locks and dams and very high water. Our first day of 63 miles took us through downtown Minneapolis on a series of very well planned and maintained bicycle paths. This year we were guided not only by the superb advance planning of John but also with the aid of two GPS devices on our bicycles in the front and back of our group. I had been in Minneapolis many times but never near the river front and was wonderfully surprised with how well developed and accessible this historic place on the Mississippi is to everyone. It is a must see the next time you're in the area. Day One ended in Hastings.

Day two was a long day of eighty miles that brought us down to Fountain City, Wisconsin. We all bicycle for a variety of reasons. I ride for the absolute joy of feeling the wind on my face and knowing that my body is making it all happen along with a serene sense of spiritual peace that comes with long hours of hard work and beautiful scenery and good companionship. Incidentally, finding serenity during cold and rain is quite a task. It was unusually cool on this trip. We awoke on this day to 45 degrees and cold blowing wind. We remembered how warm it had been in Bloomington and pondered aloud about how hard it is to pack clothes for cold when leaving from a place that is so warm.

While one can bicycle without sag support, we do not. We had this year three support drivers that were simply marvelous at resourcing and good care. We were supported this year by Cindy, Amy and Susan who drove ahead, behind and beside us in the two vehicles we had. We can pack away in these vans our extra clothes, food and drinks. Our extra equipment is always within a few minutes of us if needs arise. WE ONLY HAD ONE FLAT TIRE and no equipment breakdowns. We kept one van close to us each day for on the road emergencies. The other van has the day off and these folks will often do sightseeing, sleep in late or go shopping. Our daily close by support vehicle finds a good lunch spot for us and helps us arrange to find a motel by days end. We will often not stop riding until around 7 or so in the evening and we appreciate the advance work done by our support folks.

Fountain City to La Crosse was quite a day including the infamous Alligator Slide. There is a road that follows the Mississippi River. It is flat to rolling with a fairly decent shoulder in most places. A major commercial interest along the river is sand and gravel. These huge trucks carrying these rocks give quite a blow of air as they pass by at some 60 miles per hour. Thus what happens in the creation of these bicycle rides is the planning of side trips into interesting areas. John had discovered a two mile downhill called the Alligator Slide. We had all previewed the downhill slide on youtube in a video from a helmet cam of a bicycle rider.

In the video the sun was shining, the air was warm, the cows were chewing their cuds and it was a riding utopian dream come true. On our day it was cold and rainy and windy and even the cows had enough sense to seek shelter. In addition they were doing road work at the bottom and as I came around one very sharp turn at a good speed there was one of the three huge dump trucks I was to meet in my bucolic ride. Interestingly enough in the video they don't show the 500 foot climb over the Mississippi River bluff to get to the top of that downhill slide. It was one steep ride out of Fountain City. And, of course, when you drop down two miles you just know another hill is ahead. Bicycling teaches one that the earth always insists on balance. The earth can be flat, but not for long and if you go down which one always does, you have to come back up eventually and repeatedly.

One of the things about Wisconsin is rather than put a gasoline station on every corner they put a bar with early opening hours. Lunch after the Alligator Slide was at the Detox Bar and was one of three bars in that small Wisconsin community. I would compare many Wisconsin Bars and their food to the pub food in England. Most of the time we would get shuffled to the back of the bars as we were amongst the smelliest patrons.

The Detox had a very good prime rib sandwich. That night in La Crosse we had dinner at Piggy's with a great pasta/salad/soup bar.

La Crosse to Prairie Du Chien was about a 79 mile day mainly along the river front on Highway 35. It was supposed to be sunny but the day turned out to be mainly overcast. We did not see the sun much on this trip. This day moved very fast. We had times when we were running as fast as 20-25 miles an hour in a line. Our average speed on this day was around 15 mph. The day was not intended to be long but the next day into Galena was to be and in addition hilly. So we got to our motel and took a half hour rest and then remounted and did a very hilly late afternoon ride to Bagley, WI to tick off some miles from the next day. Our support vans picked us up and took us back to the motel and repositioned us at our new beginning spot the next morning. There was a cop at the bottom of this day's last downhill and I was happily exceeding the speed limit as I came by. I would have considered it an honor to be given a speeding ticket in that particular location.

The next day from Bagley to Galena we knew in advance was going to be a tough day because of the hills, the ups and downs. We had eight major climbs this day and that was after eliminating one climb the day before. There were a few other climbs that day that added to it being one serious day of bicycling. However, in the midst of bicycling up hills and atop ridges there are simply marvelous scenes of the Wisconsin farmland and the mighty river in the middle of our country. Did I mention farm smells and skunks? Bicycling can be smelly. Rachel had a skunk encounter and the occasion dead anything along the road is always a bouquet of smells. Our ride ended in the really delightful river town of Galena, Illinois. It was Saturday night and the middle of their wine festival weekend. The town was busy and no motel rooms were available for less than $170 per room.

So we did what is available to be done as the result of having van support. Our drivers found us rooms in Clinton, Iowa for $39.00 apiece. We had a most delightful meal in an Italian restaurant in Savanna, IL as we drove toward the bridge over to Clinton. It was probably our latest night with us not arriving at our motel until near 10 PM.

We drove back to Savanna for our Sunday morning start on the bicycle trail south. This day was our last one. It was a day primarily spent on a trail as opposed to a road shoulder. We went by ancient Native American mounds from two thousand years before the current era. The trail went through many prairie locations and the flowers were brilliant. I have not mentioned previously, but the bugs were horrible, even on this last day. In many places along the river we would have to lower our heads and you could hear the bugs by the dozens bouncing off our helmets. We became adept at keeping our mouths closed. However, ears and noses were not off limits to these black gnats that swarmed in herds like buffalo on the prairie. The bugs were part of the price of admission to this ride and I came to think of them as one of the free snacks that nature provides.

Our bicycle riders were Barb, Jillann, John, Rachel, Bev and yours truly. Many of our pictures are already up on our Facebook pages and the stories are as numerous as can possibly be imagined. It was a great ride and my thanks to all who helped facilitate to make this ride a success including many of our families who pull extra duties in our absence.

I have one favorite image from the trip. In one river town there were the customary hanging pots of flowers decorating the streets. As I started to mount my bike I put my foot down and there growing out of the small crack in between the curb and the sidewalk was a purple petunia. It was not beautifully formed; in fact, it was stunted from growing through the crack. But, I so admired how it was doing its best to thrive and produce beauty from where it was planted in a most inhospitable environment. It is an image of hope that will sustain me.

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