Onalaska To Dubuque
Day 2 – March 19
Left Onalaska, WI around 9 a.m. with the temperature at 66F and cloudy skies. Looked like rain coming, but we didn’t see any until around noon in Prairie du Chein, then it cleared up as we drove down the Iowa side of the river and over to Walford.
Crossed the bridge over the river from WI, back into MN near La Crescent and drove to a MN rest area on the river, managed cooperatively with USFWS and Army Corps. We saw a tugboat going downriver as we crossed the river, but it was out of sight by the time we stopped. A big kettle of turkey vultures were slowly circling near the top of a bluff and we saw some hawks flying a duet too. The surrounding trees were full of cardinals, robins, red winged blackbirds, grackles and even a song sparrow in full throated song. It’s always a beautiful sound when we first hear it in the springtime.
The guidebook spoke about a route that would be visually entertaining with wide vast wetlands on our left but a two lane road with very little in the way of asphalt shoulders and sometimes little or no shoulder of any kind. Actual bike trails are almost non-existent running parallel to the river, until you come into towns like Dubuque. We'll mostly be road riding, which once again causes me to think about the risks involved. Some people we met in WI claimed Iowa drivers are not especially considerate of bikers and they drive fast, whereas WI drivers are thought to be more willing to give way when they see bikers. This situation may cause us to switch sides of the river in order to avoid more dangerous road conditions.
I had told Mike I wanted to go to Lansing, IA to a store called Horsfall’s. It is an amazingly packed (over 1 million items- according to their ads) in a ramshackle, run down looking wooden building on the main street. Mike had never been there. Out in front were some sagging wooden plank ‘tables’ covered with cardboard boxes of plastic flowers and other knick knacky stuff. Once inside the store I barely got past the front door because this is where they have put all the scrapbooking supplies. I was in heaven. Paper, clear stamps, stickers and other fun and useful products filled boxes. I had to do a mental tabulation so that I would not overspend. The deals were so great, it was hard to stop. But I did. Mike took photos up and down the main street, which is a true river town lined with brick buildings. Like many of these river towns it has a wonderful old timey feel and look to it.
When we got to Marquette we crossed back over the river because we were scheduled to meet with Jon "Hawk" Stravers in Prairie du Chien. He is a red shouldered hawk researcher (30 years) that Mark Peterson of MN Audubon suggested we connect with. We met at Simply Coffee House around noon. He is a big guy with a thick head of grey hair, glasses, goatee and mustache. Not only is he dedicated to 'his' birds, but he is also a singer/songwriter. When we parted ways, he handed us a CD he’d made. Really nice music – guitar/singing/flute and a few other instruments.
We ate lunch at Simplys and talked a lot about our plans and what he’s done on the river, who he knows and how we might ‘work’ together. He’s a consultant for Audubon now – had been a staff person until recently. Next door to Simplys was The Prairie Peddler bike shop. It was closed on Mondays which disappointed Jon, because he’d wanted to introduce us to the owner. Fortuitously, the owner Marty Carson walked into Simplys and Jon introduced us. So discussed the trip and bikes. He thought a recumbent bike might not be the best choice for Mike. He suggested adjusting the height of the seat and handlebars of his current bike first and see how that feels. Mike has already decided that he is going to spend three weeks after returning home to gradually build up his bike miles and see how his body responds.
We left Prairie du Chien and crossed back to the MN side and continued following the route recommended in the book. It took us to McGregor – one of the prettiest of the river towns on this stretch. Built on a slope going up the bluff, the main street is lined with the brick and board storefronts, with include lodging, restaurants and an assortment of shops, all fronted by elevated (from the street) sidewalks. One specialty shop makes old time western style men and women’s clothing.
The Guidebook suggested going up onto the top of the bluff outside of town that goes by Pikes Peak State Park. This road goes almost all the way to Dubuque. It was highly (literally) scenic – since the land drops away on the left down into the broad river valley. Drove through several small towns including Balltown and Sherrill (built in a long stretched out section of the road). This part of Iowa is loaded with long hills and we looked at each one, measuring the distance and eyeing the shoulders (if there were any).
We didn’t stop in Dubuque because we were due in Walford, so we turned west and headed straight into a massive headwind. Our new Prius had gotten 54.8 mpg up until that time but dropped to an overall of 49 for the day.
It was still 80F at 5 pm. when we pulled into Walford where we landed for the night. My brother Bill hosted us and my mom and we celebrated her 89th birthday that night. Dark storm clouds had formed to the south as we sat on the patio visiting. By 6:30 p.m. the storm hit and rain came down in sheets, almost parallel to the ground. Thunder and lightning flashed outside as we went to bed. I just hope some of the rain reaches Willow River, MN