David Freeze Day 4: Calling the bluff: A lot of climbing

Published 6:14 pm Saturday, July 29, 2023

Editor’s note: David Freeze is cycling along the Mississippi River. This is part two of his adventure, riding from Dubuque, Iowa, up to to the source in Minnesota. Contact him at david.freeze@ctc.net.

Last night, for the first time on this trip, I got caught up with writing and planning early. Brutally hot all day, the temps dropped fast toward evening. I sat outside talking occasionally with a big group of fisherman who had the rest of Hillcrest Motel in Alma, Wisconsin, rented. It was a very relaxing time, especially when multiple trains came by. Rain was forecast overnight and much cooler temperatures were predicted for today.

Up and out early this morning, I noticed no rain had fallen but still expected a cooler day. I rode into Nelson early, where I asked a convenience store operator whether I should take the Wisconsin side or cross back to Minnesota. She told me to stay in Wisconsin and I would see a lot of the river. I did, but the theme of the day was “bluffs.” I had been listening to a local country station that called itself Bluff radio. I found out why. Long hills of more than a mile, over and over, all in the lowest gear. This kept up for most of the day.

I passed through Pepin, Wisconsin, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie. Pepin had a beautiful view of the wide river.

Then on to Stockholm and Maiden Rock. Both had less than 300 residents. I saw a historical marker about Maiden Rock, where a young Indian maiden was forced to marry a young brave chosen for her by others. That night, she jumped to her death from a rock along the Great River Road. I remember a similar story from Hannibal, Missouri, where another Indian maiden and her young brave lover jumped to their deaths together. I also met a group of motorcyclists, one of which said he just rode his skateboard from Wisconsin to Virginia. He said, “We have to stay on the move!”

I hit the first of the worst bluffs right after that and hoped the motorcyclists didn’t come by and see me struggling. They must have gone the other way. The morning’s ride was on U.S. 35.

Just before Hager City, I crossed back to the Minnesota side in hopes of avoiding the bluffs as the temperatures rose. It didn’t work. After I passed through the historic town of Red Wing, famous for its shoe factories and late 1800s buildings, the worst bluff took over two miles to climb. I was back on U.S. 61. I made a right turn toward Hastings, Minnesota, and had 10 miles of flat road to finish up.

Hastings is on the Mississippi, but it’s about a mile away. I grabbed a motel room at the Hastings Inn, just ahead of a huge thunderstorm downpour. A half hour later, I was treated to a beautiful rainbow. I had 71 miles and just finished more strawberry ice cream. I will plan to get a photo of the river here early tomorrow before leaving town.

Tomorrow, I ride along the river through Minneapolis, which will be challenging to follow. I have a map that uses about six roads to follow the river. Likely there will be a good surprise in tomorrow’s report about that ride.

Thanks to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church men’s group for sponsoring my ride. Join me back here tomorrow!