August 2017 – Cycling in Minnesota and Wisconsin
By Richard W. Cavin
Imagine going to a place that has so many bike paths it would take months or even years to ride them all. Imagine going to a place that has “cool” summers, lush greenery, forests, courteous drivers and lakes/rivers everywhere.
Well in Sept 2017 that place for me was eastern Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin.
My winter Texan friends Rick and his wife Connie invited me up for a visit. I flew up to Minneapolis for five days of cycling in early September. Going from days of 100+ heat to temps in the 40s at night and a little rain was a bit of a shocker. According to Rick I complained a lot about the cold weather, he’s probably right.
Rick and his wife met me at the airport with bikes on the rack. The plan was for me to put my seat and pedals on one of Rick’s older steel touring bikes near the airport and ride the 30+ miles to his home in Woodbury, MN. On the ride we also toured some downtown areas in St. Paul, MN. Traffic was very light since it was Labor Day. Late that afternoon a cold front blew in with winds and some thunderstorms. We were off the bikes by then but the cool and sometimes wet weather would persist for most of the week.
Figure 1 – This was my bike for the week. 1980 model
Figure 2 – State Capitol Building in St. Paul, MN – Very Impressive
Figure 3 – Bridges and Bikes What can I say
Figure 4 – Near the state Capitol in St. Paul, MN
On Tuesday morning we headed out into Wisconsin towards Rick’s farm. We rode some bike trails along with lightly traveled rural farm roads. There were some hills with one pretty tough one plus a nice downhill where I topped out at 49.7 MPH on the bike!
Our route went from Woodbury, MN to near River Falls, WI along the Kinnickinnic River. Yes that really is the name of the river! Rick’s wife drove out in the afternoon with some food and steak that Rick would grill on the BBQ later in the afternoon. It was really tasty! The clouds rolled in, wind and some light rain but we had already finished our bike ride. I got an extended tour of Rick’s farm where he has two trailers and is finishing up an earth-shelter (below ground home) on the bluff above the river. All electricity was provided by solar panels and batteries. Quite an impressive setup. And yes, we had Internet.
On Wednesday morning we were supposed to shimmy down the high bluff with kayaks to get in the river. I passed because my knee was a little gimpy and I really did not want to get in that cold water! So we hopped on the bikes and headed back to Minnesota mid-morning. Our route going back was different and a little less hilly but the scenery remained spectacular. I will never forget on the way back as we were in line at a Subway in Cottage Grove, MN. As I’m standing there I mentioned to a couple of people next to me that I was from Texas. Both of them started rattling off all the bike paths I ‘must’ ride while in the area. After a few minutes I mentioned I was only in town for five days, not a few months, and I’d have to come back for future visits! But this was typical, so many bike paths, and much of the general public enjoy cycling, walking, running. I did not notice any rampant obesity here, we have a long way to go in Texas. Not only for bike paths but exercise in general.
Figure 5 – Snowmobiles are Allowed!
Figure 6 – My Friend Rick with his Fuji Touring Bike
Figure 7 – Water, bridges, bikes
Figure 8 – The farm near River Falls, WI
Figure 9 – Getting ready to head back to Minnesota
Figure 10 – Another bridge picture!
Figure 11 – Back in Minnesota
Figure 12 – They drive cars on this lake in the winter!
Figure 13 – Beautiful Lake Park
Figure 14 – New Bike Path
Our Thursday trip was to drive to West Salem, Wisconsin and jump on the bike path to Wilton, WI and return on Friday. The 37+ miles could be ridden solely on bike paths. One of the bike paths was the very first rail to trails conversion in the USA so from a historical perspective it is significant.
Along this path there were several small towns, bike shops, bridges, beautiful scenery and some tunnels. One tunnel was close to a mile long and had to be walked. I’m a bit claustrophobic so I did not enjoy that tunnel. The weather was now 50 degrees, cold and raining….so I’m glad I had my rain jacket. We stopped in Norwalk and bought a bowl of chili that really hit the spot.
More info about this historic trail can be found here:
It’s worth a ride/visit if you are ever in the area. Very beautiful and well maintained.
We slept overnight at a “four” room motel in Wilton, WI. It was older but very nice, clean and very affordable. Here is a link to their website.
On Friday morning we woke up to temps in the 40s but the sun was out! Friday turned out to be the best day of riding. Weather ended up being gorgeous. I also told Rick I wanted to ride on portions of the highway on the way back, not just the bike path. That turned out to be very scenic and the drivers were courteous.
So by Friday afternoon we were back in Woodbury. On Friday evening I topped off my visit by watching Fargo with my friend Rick.
Figure 15 – More Lakes
Figure 16 – Nice Park
Figure 17 – Why not?
Figure 18 – Old tank and Army Helicopter near the bike trail
Figure 19 – Rick and I in Sparta, WI
Figure 20 – Really Nice Bike Shop on Trail
Figure 21 – This tunnel is over 3,800 Feet Long. Super dark and water everywhere
Figure 22 – Four Room Motel in Wilton, WI
Figure 23 – Motel in Wilton, WI. Nice and clean
Figure 24 – Heading back on the trail (back towards Minnesota)
Figure 25 – This tunnel was rideable but only about a quarter mile long
Figure 26 – Shorter Tunnel
Figure 27 – We missed the Tractor Pull in August!
Figure 28 – Yes they sell these in Wisconsin
Figure 29 – One of the many trails we rode
Figure 30 – Amish Territory in Wisconsin – Beautiful Horse
Figure 31 – Beautiful Flowers growing along the road
Figure 32 – More Flowers
Figure 33 – Even more flowers and the sun was out!
Figure 34 – Back in West Salem, WI
Figure 35 – Beautiful Overlook towards Winona
Figure 36 – Overlook to Winona
What a great trip. Again thanks to my wonderful hosts Rick and Connie Light. Rick is also a warmshowers host like me. They are special people.
I can’t wait until I visit again to ride more bike trails and visit other parts of this beautiful country….but I will pass on winter!
In summary, Minnesota and Wisconsin are very clean, have miles and miles of bike trails, gorgeous scenery and very courteous drivers. Oh yeah, the people are really nice also. Try it some day, you will not regret it.
If you’d like to discuss cycling, have comments on my short article and suggestions send me an email.
The tale of an ordinary citizen, a cyclist…..past, present and future. How cycling has enabled me to meet so many interesting people and visit this beautiful country.
Until next time, Be Safe and Ride On!
South Texas Regional Brevet Administrator (RUSA)