Mississippi River - St Paul - Onalaska
Full Length Mississippi
DAY 1 MARCH 18, 2012 SCOUTING TRIP
Left home with temperatures in the 70s and high humidity. The most bizarre weather we’ve ever seen in our lives for Minnesota in mid-march. It was overcast until we hit the Twin Cities and the temperature continued to rise, pushed by strong southerly winds. Another strange phenomena at this time of year.
We had just heard the first Eastern bluebird of the year at our house – far earlier than normal, and on the way, going past Pine City, we saw great blue herons flying over the trees of their rookery. The Snake River still had ice on it, but it was dark in color and obviously close to going out.
This will be our ‘scouting’ or ‘ground truthing’ trip for next year’s bike expedition. We have a number of guide books with directions for roads/trails to take along the river and we are going to try to see how accurate they are. The most recent one was written in 2008.
Getting closer to St.Paul, we saw a mature bald eagle flying with something in its talons as it landed on the giant stick nest in a large tree. Its mate was perched nearby. People were out on golf courses and in the city many were wearing shorts. Lots of people, we were happy to see, were out riding bikes.
In St.Paul, we drove to a neighborhood near the Capitol with a good view out over the city and the river in the distance. Here we tried out our new video camera – our Go Pro. Could not see anything on the LED screen because of the daylight, so weren’t sure if we were taking photos or video or anything for that matter, It wasn't until the evening when we downloaded it on the computer that we were able to see what we captured. It was a good test.
When we got down closer to the river, we could see that the south wind was so strong that it made the river appear to flow north, with waves curling and white capped. Drove towards WI and crossed over the St.Croix river where it meets the Mississippi in Prescott. The main street in town was hopping, mainly with big, Harley (or similar) motorcycles. People milled around outside of pubs and bars, admiring one another’s bikes. Just outside of town is the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Families with little kids used the playground, while other adults walked down to the overlook and gazed down a the big, dark, corrugated river. Mike took photos and we got back on the road heading south. Each river town we drove through had a cluster of bikers in front of a ‘watering hole’ and when they all roared out of town in a herd, they sounded like a colossal jet taking off. In Stockholm (my favorite small town on the WI side) I put my hands over my ears as I stood on the corner, with their noise reverberating through my body.
In Stockholm, Mike discovered a Pie Shop on the corner and couldn’t resist. He ordered a slice of fruit pie while I swooned over the gorgeous Indian style blouses at the Gallery across the street. We can always be counted on to support the local economies. We both went away happy and satisfied. I told him later, I will need panniers on my bike for these sorts of stops.
There were lots of hills on this side of the river and we measured their lengths, thinking about what it would be like to ride up or fly down them on bikes. I looked at the fairly narrow shoulder on either side of the road and imagined what it would be like with the semis blowing past.
On our left the big limestone/sandstone cliffs rose into the sky, drawing our eyes upward, just as the kettles of turkey vultures were drawn to them by the rising thermals. Lake Pepin appeared on the right side, dark and choppy, with a humid haze hovering over the narrows between the bluffs on the far end.
Mike was reminded of countless canoe trips he’s taken on the river and I thought about the houseboat trips I’d been on. We both have a long history with this river, both having grown up near its banks in Minneapolis.
By the time we reached Nelson, WI we saw willow trees beginning to leaf out and green grass. It reached a high of 81F and was still that temperature at 6 p.m. when we reached Doug White’s house in Onalaska.
Haven’t seen Doug or his wife Theresa and their son Harrison for 10 years. Last time, they were living in Dallas and Theresa was at the end of the pregnancy that produced daughter Alexa, who greeted us at the door. Doug had invited Jan Wellik, one of Mike’s former Hamline graduate students to come to dinner. She arrived with her husband Mike and baby boy Trey. Turned out Jan and Theresa met each other earlier at a Newcomers event in town. Doug is a physician (Rhumatologist and researcher) and has agreed to be our medical advisor on the bike trip.