126 miles - Total: 1279 miles
It came out of the blue, unexpected, uninvited, unannounced.
I pedal in the wind because fate has put it in my path. I did not want it there but it happened. So what can I do now?
Another eventful day among the winds of Wisconsin and Minnesota. I wake up late and go through my morning routine: breakfast, get dressed for the ride, apply sunscreen all over my exposed bits and off I go. I leave the hotel at the late hour of 9:30am. I did nto sleep much last night, I watched the Olympics on TV well into the new day. When I take the first pedal strokes I feel reivigorated as if the sunshine has a magic effect on me. The air is warm but very tolerable. The cleaned chain and the new tire feel smooth. All seems to be working well this morning so I try to make up for time by pressing on the pedals. At the edge of town at Onalaska, I immediately find the Great River Road Trail, which is located in the heart of the Upper Mississippi River Valley or the "blufflands" of the four states Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. The trail runs near several wineries that have sprung up in recent years. Wisconsin is really putting itself on the wine map. I don't actually stop to taste the wine but I enjoy the many other things that the trail offers such as farmlands, prairie remnants, trout streams, hardwood forests and countless wetlands or swamps that surround the big river. The trail is packed limestone screenings which makes a reasonably smooth riding surface. I ride on it for about 10 miles before I make my way to highway 35 which will take me the whole way to Minnesota. Route 35 is the Great River Road which is a collection of roads that follow the Mississippi from its source in Minnesota all the way to Louisiana, ten states down south. It is a fascinating ride, I pass through several towns that are located along the way and many of these villages are quite charismatic and have something unique to offer. I stop in every single one of them to either stock up on snacks and water or simply to briefly enjoy the vibe and the different views of the river.
These stops along the way provide me with mental and physical comfort because today, once again, I have a strong headwind to contend with. By the time I realize that another day with the same old headwind awaits I quickly come to the conclusion that the wind is not my companion; it is my enemy. So I get angry and I decide to challenge it. I keep pushing on those pedals until I can win. I don't want to be frustrated, I don't want to feel sorry for the misery that riding into a strong wind actually is, I want to resist it, I want to fight it and conquer it. But can I really challenge the wind? Can I ride on as if no outer element existed? Can I pretend that I am not enslaved by nature and its indisputable forces? And if it blows, how the hell can I get even with it?
Let's play. So why would I want to challenge the wind, or death, for that matter, to play a game of chess? I start my bike ride so fervent in my beliefs that I will make it to the end safely that no warning sign, no early gust of wind can deter me. This puts me in a situation in which I become so concerned with the final outcome that I forget to concern myself with the journey itself. So the wind becomes the enemy because it makes me think about the journey as something "happening" outside my beliefs, more real than my obtuseness to checkmate it. I attempt to create a masterclass ride so that no wind will be brave enough to ever blow again me. That's not only impossibile, it is ridiculous. In my quest to dominate it I become blind to everything else around me. I am blind to the beauties of the journey. The wind makes a mockery of my faith in certainty because there is none. So I decide that it is impossible to fight it. it is not so much a decision as a realization. It becomes blatantly apparent as soon as I get on the bike. If I concern myself with fighting the wind my plight will become an unrealized life. A waste of time.
Of course today I wanted to be Ingmar Bergman's Antonious Block in his vain attempt to challenge death to a game of chess. I love it when death turns around and our hero knocks over the pieces in an attempt to prolong the game. This ride is not an attempt to knock over the pieces. It is just another move. Being audacious and sincere automatically equals mercy? Of course not. So I find peace in not knowing when and how it will blow again and by doing so I enjoy the ride, I enjoy the scenery and I will no longer fear the wind, for he is now my companion. I will let it blow as much as it pleases and I will find a way to dance to its tune, I will use it to enjoy other things that I did not see before because I was so busy fighting it. I will listen to it and I will love it. That's the idea.
The last twenty miles of the day are much tougher; the road branches off of the river and I ride past several fields where perfectly shaped pine trees and white pine tress are on sale. I look it up and I learn that Wisconsin has hundreds of Xmas trees farms. The road gets hilly as I approach Minneapolis and I begin to feel tired. I spent many hours on the bike today and the toll of the headwind and now the hills is there. Late in the day I enter Minnesota, but by this time I am caught up in the frenzy to find a hotel and in the fatigue of many miles I miss the sign for the photo opportunity. I ride the last ten miles of the day on busy highway 10 which I don't enjoy. My legs feel heavy and all I can do is push, averaging 19mph with only one goal: to find the hotel. Highway 10 is the most direct route into Minneapolis. The urban area of the Twin Cities (Saint Paul and Minneapolis) is massive, as large as Washington DC's so there's no point in attacking it now. The sunlight is quickly fading so I decide to finish the day at around 7.30pm, about 20 miles south of Minneapolis. The motel, a shabby two-floor brown building, clean and cheerful enough to spend a night without getting all depressed, provides much needed shelter with a hot shower, warm bed and a good meal in a nearby restaurant. I will try to get up early tomorrow, I am only 20 miles south of Minneapolis, which is affectionately dubbed the bike capital of the world. Tomorrow I will find out. Good going so far.
I meet the trail in Onalaska, ten miles North of La Crosse
No traffic, no pollution, no wind and no loose gravel, the first ten miles were pure heaven today
The river through the trees from the trail
This steel bridge used to house the railroad, now the trail runs on it
The Mighty Mississippi with the bluffs right next to it
From one of the many scenic overlooks on the Mississippi from the Great River Road
Wetlands around the river
Second breakfast of the day
A ridiculously long freight train
Third breakfast of the day or "pre-lunch snack"
The tiny village of Stockholm along the Mississippi
Settled by Swedish immigrants, it offers many nordic arts and crafts
Imposing bluff overlooking Great River Road
In the afternoon the wind abates but hikes appear
Scenery from the afternoon ride
Perfectly planted pine trees for sale
I needed at least one of these today
The steel bridge in Prescott
Casting a long shadow, last shot of the day