Bike Tour 2007 - Driftin' through the Driftless Area and Dairy Air

Jim and Tom's 11th bike tour


It's been hot and dry in July and the vegetation is a bit parched. This makes the farmers unhappy, but it's not bad bike touring weather. I've wanted to do this ride for several years and conditions for this tour are looking good.

Overview Map

Minneapolis to Madison

Route Profile

Route Profile

In the profile, the the Root River, Mississippi River, and Wisconsin River are the deepest troughs. Happel Hill, at about the 180-mile mark, is the biggest climb at about 450 feet. Overall we climb 19,000 vertical feet.

Sunday, July 8, 105 miles, Avg 13.5 mph, 7h46m riding time, 11 hills
Tom's house to Rochester, MN


Jim and I rise about 6:00am and are raring to go after a nice blueberry pancake breakfast.


Bob the cat bids us farewell as we ride south down Fremont Ave. Fear not Bob, we shall return.

We start riding about 7:15am and see a fair number of cyclists and joggers in the streets of Minneapolis at this early hour. The starting temperature is about 80 degrees (27C) and it is looking to be a hot one. It is windy and sunny as we head east on 49th St.


We come to Ramsey Fine Arts Elementary School in South Minneapolis. A short distance later we head down the 50th St hill toward Minnehaha Parkway, and hop onto the bike path that follows Minnehaha Creek.

I tend to avoid bike paths as many joggers seem to prefer the bike path over the adjacent pedestrian path. I don't know why they do this. Today is no exception as many joggers clog the bike path.

As we near Minnehaha Falls, we get onto Minnehaha Ave and then follow another bike path toward Fort Snelling

This route is going to have a fair number of hills so we start counting the number of hills we climb.


Fort Snelling is the first white settlement in Minnesota and often features reenactments of the early days when the settlers arrived.


While we are here we get a picture of Jim with the Mendota Bridge in the background and a plane is landing too.


We ride across the Mendota Bridge and catch a glimpse of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. This confluence made this place a good spot to build Fort Snelling.

Shortly after crossing the bridge we pass a Super America station where I stopped a week earlier after a long ride. The exciting part is that while I was sitting outside drinking a Gatorade, two police cars pulled in front and in back of a car at a pump and pointed their guns at the driver. I happened to notice that I was directly behind the guy the officer had his gun fixed upon. I decided to leave.

Today, things appear far less exciting as we navigate a maze of suburban roads. We head southeast on State 55 to Lexington Avenue, where we take a right and head south until we get to Yankee Doodle Road. After a short stretch on Yankee Doodle we head south again on Elrene Ave. Soon we get to Wescott and then, after a short construction area on State 149, we continue south on Rich Valley Blvd.


This place is known around here as the Koch refinery and it's located along Rich Valley Blvd. We stop for a picture on this warm morning. It's actually now called the "Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend Refinery" for some mysterious reason.

scary sign

We ride a little further and find a little bit of excessive paranoia showing. This spot says no pictures allowed. Can't take pictures of an oil refinery??? Funny thing is, aerial and street level pictures of this place are available on Google Maps. Just go to Google Maps and enter "Rich Valley Blvd".


When we get to County Road 42 we head east until we come to the Emerald Greens Golf Course. We can always take pictures of a golf course. Hey, what's that in the background? I hope it's not the Koch Refinery!

We follow county Road 42 east to State 55 and notice a strong wind building out of the west. One nice feature of riding on a highway is that you can test your bike computer against the mile markers. Fortunately our computers seem to be accurate. After a few more miles, when we are near Hastings, we reach County Road 85 and head south.


A local patriot has a huge flag and a monument to our troops along this stretch.


This section of County Road 85 is long and straight, and from this vantage point we can see back many miles of the route we just rode. Before long the small town of New Trier appears and we continue south on County Road 85 headed to Cannon Falls.


Here is the Cannon River that runs through Cannon Falls. A friendly local asks us if we came from the city of Red Wing (it's east of here). We tell him we came from Minneapolis and he seems impressed wanting to know how long that took us. I tell him we left around 7:15am this morning and that we're headed to Madison, WI.


The town is named after the Cannon Falls that you can barely see in the distance behind Jim. They're not particularly high, but I guess they qualify as waterfalls here in the Midwest. The falls were big enough to power a mill and give the town its start. We have a fine lunch at the DQ in Cannon Falls.

After looking at the map and where we are at the moment, we decide we can shave a few miles off the route by riding south on State 52. It is getting quite hot now and the cross wind from the west keeps picking up. In a couple of miles we reach County Road 14 and head south until we get to County Road 9. This road is a little rough. We head east on County Road 9 and hill number 8 is a long memorable one. A little after the top of the hill we reach County Road 1 and head south again. Along with it being hot and windy, this road is also pretty rough.

The counties in Minnesota have been struggling to maintain their roads as our current Governor Pawlenty has cut way back on such expenses. They're just not a priority for him. Jim and I call these roads Pawlenty Roads. We take a break from the Pawlenty road under a shade tree and have some snacks.

14_505st.jpg 17st505.jpg

After the break we ride a couple more miles until we reach County Road 11 and head east. Soon we reach this intersection. The 505 St sign might just be the biggest number we've seen on a road sign. I suppose the sign is about 505 blocks south of St. Paul.

The hot and windy weather has made us thirsty, but finally the wind is at our backs as we follow County Road 11 into the town of Pine Island. Here we stop for a Gatorade and then drink an A&W root beer float to both cool off and quench our thirst.


We ride across a temporary bridge (apparently the previous temporary bridge fell down and this is the new one) and head to the downtown area of Pine Island. The main street is under a lot of construction. I used to live on a dairy farm just outside of Pine Island when I worked for IBM Rochester back in the late 1970s. Pine Island is (or was?) sometimes known as the Cheese Center of Minnesota and once had 30 cheese factories in the area.


We head to the Douglas Trail on our final leg to Rochester. It takes us a couple of passes to find the trail head but the trail itself is a nice smooth path for 14 miles with many nice green tunnels along the way. We see a couple of deer on the trail, and only a few people. Some nasty looking clouds are moving our way so we quicken our pace to Rochester.


We arrive safely and check into our hotel. The weather no longer appears as threatening, so we visit a cemetery in Rochester where Jim's sister is buried. As we ride back from the cemetery winds whip through the skyscrapers in the downtown area with gusts to 35mph. The downtown is dominated by the gigantic Mayo Clinic. It has 15 million square feet (the Mall of America has 4.2 million square feet), more than 30,000 employees, and had $6.3 billion in revenues in 2006. A little later that evening, after dinner, a major thunderstorm hits Rochester.

Monday, July 9, 107 miles, Avg 13.5 mph, 7h54m riding time, 17 hills, 39mph max
Rochester, MN to La Crosse, WI

We rise at 6:30am and have the continental breakfast at the hotel. This place offers some healthy alternatives for breakfast, as you might expect for a hotel near the Mayo Clinic, but most of the guests are eating the pastries and other junk food, which should help generate more business for the Clinic.

About 8:00am I call Olmstead County (where our hotel is) to find out if the bridge on County Road 30 is still under construction. They tell us the bridge is still out, so we reroute a bit. Our route out of town follows Center St. to College View Road. College View heads east, goes by the community college, and turns into County Road 9 outside of Rochester. We climb three good hills before getting to State 42. County Road 9 is a nice smooth road. We follow 42 to the town of Eyota.

The name "Eyota" was an American Indian word that meant "Superior". One theory regarding this name states that early settlers hoped to express that the land in the area was high quality and would attract additional settlers. Another theory is that the word actually refers to its elevation being higher than the surrounding area (Wikipedia).


The festive blue banners on the lamp posts advertise Eyota Days. Maybe the town will get lively during the celebration, but this view reminds you that so many main streets of small towns are just not what they used to be.

After a brief rest in Eyota we head south on State 42 until we cross over Interstate 90. Quickly after Interstate 90 our journey heads east on County Road 129, another bumpy Pawlenty Road. A cross wind blows out of the north with the temperature around 70F (21C). In just a few miles we reach County Road 32 (another Pawlenty Road) and head south again. In a mile or so we reach County Road 10. A favorable tail wind blows us nicely along these rolling hills all the way to Chatfield. Chatfield is known as the Gateway to Bluff Country.


Also, we enjoy a very nice downhill into Chatfield. We decide to grab an early lunch at the DQ in Chatfield. They are very friendly at this DQ and give us some tips on routes to follow. In hindsight it seems like there's a certain logic in eating at Dairy Queens in the middle of all this dairy country.

We follow State 30/74 east out of Chatfield. It is a rough and very bumpy Pawlenty road with steep slopes. We stay on 30 when it splits off toward the southeast. Soon we see a sign indicating the road is closed ahead, but, as usual, Jim and I risk everything and take it anyway.


Before long we come to a bridge under construction. We ask someone for permission to cross a track that traverses Trout Creek just next to the new bridge. First he tries to find another person to ask about it but can't find him. Finally, he says to us, "I won't watch." I like this guy.

We cross successfully but get our shoes a bit muddy. We ride up the hill and come to County Road 21. Unfortunately this is a gravel road. I ride back down the hill and stop by a farm house and a I ask a friendly woman if 21 is gravel all the way to Lanesboro, and she says "yes! I recommend you follow State 30 to State 250 and that takes you to Lanesboro."

State 30 is a nice smooth road but State 250 is really rough, bumpy, and hilly. Fortunately we have a nice tail wind pushing us toward Lanesboro. It is getting hot though, and very sunny. The high temperature today is in the mid 80s (30C).


We reach this bridge crossing the Root River just before Lanesboro. Soon we reach the Root River Trail and follow it into Lanesboro.


We drink a nice cool Gatorade, in the quaint community of Lanesboro, as it is definitely getting hot. Jim tries to buy new bicycle gloves but no place sells them. This is surprising as many people come here to bike on the Root River Trail. We fill our water bottles at a public drinking fountain and head northeast on the Root River Trail leaving Lanesboro behind us.


The Root River Trail is a nice smooth and scenic trail with many wooden bridges. Since it follows a river, few roads cross its path.


We stop for another short break in the town of Whalen.


The next town is Petersen and we stop for another Gatorade. A guy at the table next to us is lecturing everyone in the store about how wonderful the NRA is for going after President Clinton when he tried to take everyone's guns away.


After Petersen we do not see another rider as the trail follows close to the Root River.


The next town is Rushford and we start to see the large bluffs along this part of the river. We are entering the unglaciated region known as "The Driftless Area." The rugged Driftless Area got this name because geologists did not find glacial drift, i.e., crushed rock and sand transported and deposited by glaciers. For cyclists, the Driftless Area means lots of steep hills because glaciers did not smooth out the landscape. As mentioned previously, our total elevation climb for this trip was 19,000 feet, and this was due in large part to the Driftless Area.


The Root River is our constant companion along here and there is enough shade to keep us a little cooler. The trail after Rushford is newer and even smoother - nice!


We climb one fairly steep hill, at least by trail standards. After that hill we see these nice wild flowers along the trail.


We stop in the pretty town of Houston which is the trail head for the Root River Trail. We consume another Gatorade as we prepare for the final leg of our ride today. Some friendly locals wish us well on our ride.


An impressive mural graces the side of a store on the main street through town. We leave Houston by crossing the Root River one last time and then take County Road 9 headed east. This is a pretty smooth road. We turn right on County Road 21 (smooth) to County Road 25. Here we climb Happel Hill which is quite steep and long. It's a bluff like those depicted in the Houston mural. Once we climb about 450 vertical feet to the top the road follows a ridge and provides some nice scenic views of the countryside. This is a pretty road. We speed down a nice two-mile plus downhill off the ridge into the city of La Crescent.


We cross the bridge that leads to La Crosse and stop to view the mighty Mississippi. Then we enter La Crosse and find our motel.

Tuesday, July 10, 74.7 miles, Avg 12.5 mph, 6h0m riding time, 21 hills, 41mph max
La Crosse to Richland Center

We rise at 6:00am with the temperature about 71 (23C) and very windy. We leave La Crosse by heading south on Highway 35.


Just before leaving town we stop for an exciting and healthy breakfast.


Nothing beats an alfresco breakfast outside the Kwik Trip. Someday I'll think these gasoline prices are cheap.

After breakfast we head south again and come to an area of the road where some concrete slabs have huge jagged gaps between them and we have to wind our way around them in some busy traffic with the wind in our faces. This is some early morning excitement. We turn onto County Road K and head southeast. The wind is more of a crosswind now but this road is very smooth and nice for riding.


Soon we come to a big two-mile climb which is called Hamburg Ridge. The nice part is the 2.3 mile downhill on the other side. This leads us to the small town of Chaseburg where we ride by the Chaseburg Creamery

More than 5.5 million pounds of organic butter a year are churned here. This is a reminder that Wisconsin is an important dairy state, producing 15% of the country's milk, 25% of its butter, and 30% of its cheese. Jim heard on Michael Feldman's "Whad'Ya Know" radio show that one of the proposed state slogans for Wisconsin was "come and smell our dairy air."

After Chaseburg is another big hill to climb. At the top we follow a ridge road until we come to County Road O, which we follow for a mile or so, and then head east on County Road Y. The wind shifts to the west and this gives us a nice tailwind on another smooth road. So far, the roads in Wisconsin are far superior to the Minnesota 'Pawlenty' roads.


We come to a place where contour farming is practiced because this area is so hilly. A nice downhill on Y leads to the North Fork Bad Axe River Reservoir. Here we see a big culvert with a big red sign that says "NO MORE WAR." Then we do a big climb up from the river to Irish Ridge and find County Road B. Here we almost turn the wrong direction but a quick check of the map sets us straight. A nice long downhill on another smooth road leads to Springville and then to the lovely town of Viroqua which modestly claims that it "is one of the most beautiful and unique small cities in Wisconsin, if not in the entire nation." We stop at another Kwik Trip for a Gatorade and some friendly clerks joke with us that we could eat lunch there when we ask for recommendations. We tell them we already had breakfast at a Kwik Trip and we are looking for more of a cafe. One of the clerks tells us about her biking experience from 20 years ago.


We decide to have lunch at "Karen's Kitchen" and we immediately notice that many patrons here are smoking. One guy at the counter is with his infant daughter, and he is smoking and wearing a T-shirt that says "FBI Female Body Inspector." Then, the daughter's grandmother comes over, picks her up, and starts smoking. The food is OK here, but the service is a bit slow.


After lunch we stop at the Viroqua Veteran's Memorial which has an "Icon of Peace" at the entrance. This icon is a 4,300-pound polished black granite globe that sits on an 8,000-pound granite base. The markers in the background have 3,944 names on them. This is a very impressive memorial.

We leave Viroqua heading south on US 14 and then take a left on County Road SS. A big climb up SS leads to Pleasant Ridge. After the ridge there is a nice downhill to Liberty and we cross the Kickapoo River. We notice some dark clouds starting to form in the sky ahead of us. After Liberty there is a big climb up to Highway 56 and then a nice downhill into the town of Viola in the heart of the Kickapoo Valley.


The local bar in Viola has a "SORRY WE'RE OPEN" sign. We stop in a general store and get Gatorade. Outside the store a teenage girl says to me in a snotty voice, "you're going to get wet ya know." I reply, "that could happen" and watch her walk to her car. Truth is, we didn't get wet as the clouds broke up a little later on in the afternoon.

State 56 out of Viola is a little rough - the first rough road we have encountered since entering Wisconsin. We turn south on County Road G and pass by the S&S Ranch Landing Strip. Then we climb a big hill that bring us to County Road I. County Road I heads straight east and this nice tail wind lets us just fly along this stretch.


This area has lots of contoured fields as we head south on County Road A. In a mile or so there is a big climb up to English Ridge where we stop for a break. Well, three dogs appear out of nowhere and they do not appear to be very friendly. We think they're saying "don't even think about trying to stop here," so we ride up a small hill and stop to eat some snacks.

Dena Shaw, who lives in the house at the top of the hill, stops by for a visit and offers us some water. Then she comes back and brings us each an apple, and a banana nut muffin for our journey. We always enjoy meeting nice people like Dena on our journeys.

Soon after leaving English Ridge we come to a stand that is selling raspberries for $1.50 and buy a box. There is no one at this stand so it is on the honor system. The next hill we go down is tricky as there is a strong crosswind. We take County Road ZZ (continues south) which is up and down and up an down, leading to a lousy downhill that ends abruptly at US 14. We cross 14, climb another hill and then glide down a nice downhill to County Road Q. We follow Q which ends with a nice downhill into Richland Center.


In Richland Center we first stop at a bike shop and try to buy gloves again but this bike shop doesn't sell gloves either. We do pump up our tires and then take a ride around Richland Center where we pass by this nice Court House. Finally we head to our hotel.

Wednesday, July 11, 75.,86 miles, Avg 13.4 mph, 5h39m riding time, 18 hills, 40mph max
Richland Center to Madison


We spent the night here, at the White House, though it looks more like a Capitol. It has lots of presidential portraits adorning its walls. We rise at 7:00am with a temperature in the low 60s (16C) with a slight wind out of the west. After a leisurely breakfast we start riding south on Bowman Drive about 9:00am. After a short distance we head east on OO and ride up our first hill. Soon we reach County Road O and head south, passing lots of dairy farms.

We head southeast on County Road TB which follows the Pine River. In a short distance we reach Twin Bluffs (is that what TB means?). This road now passes by the Lower Wisconsin River State Wildlife Area (LWRSWA) Richland Unit. What a long name!


This road is a little rough and it appears there is some work going on in preparation for a repaving.


We head east on highway 60 and cross Pine River and head into the town of Gotham.


Being in the town of Gotham can only mean one thing.


The bar is named The Bat Cave and Batman is here. Heading east on County Road JJ, a nice flat smooth road, we are helped along by a tail wind. We take a short break when we reach State 130, and then follow 130 south to Lone Rock. We get on US Highway 14, with lots of trucks passing us by, and then decide to stop at little store and have a Gatorade. On the way out of Lone Rock we have to wait for a graffiti covered train to pass by.


Soon we cross over the Wisconsin River and see some large sandbars exposed on both sides and in the middle of the river. We head southwest on 130 into the wind until we reach County Road C. This is a long stretch of nice smooth road with a good tailwind. At the end a nice downhill goes by a house with a strange picture window that I can't even describe. We should have taken a picture.


Soon we come to Taliesin - summer home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright and see this nice waterfall.


Several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are just visible in the distance.

This photo of Taliesin is by Gary Porter.

We stop by the Visitors Center where they are selling a $5000.00 table, and Frank Lloyd Wright hand puppets. We ride to Tower Hill State Park and have a picnic lunch.

After lunch we follow C to High Point Road and climb some big steep hills.


We are no longer in the Driftless Area and have entered an area of hollows, this one being Amacher Hollow.


And the next one being Knight Hollow. These hollows definitely have the feeling of being inside a big bowl. The roads are very nice but narrow, though there is almost no traffic. The hillsides are steep and there is definitely a nice backroads feel here. We see four wild turkeys in a field and a deer.

After leaving the hollows, and still in the middle of nowhere, we meet a guy on a recumbent trike with two wheels in the front (tadpole design). He tells us he has terminal cancer and lost 25 pounds, but still likes to ride when he feels well enough. He once did a century ride on this recumbent. We wish him well and head south on County Road K and E and then KK/FF. We enter Dane County which includes Madison. Pretty soon exurban housing appears as we head northeast on County Road F. After a few miles we head southeast on County Road KP which takes us to Black Earth.


Here we have another Gatorade and stop by the old train station, which the local historical society has restored and refurbished into a museum. We head east out of Black Earth on KP and this road is a little rougher and busier. Within a few miles we reach the town of Cross Plains and start seeing some more cyclists. We follow a detour that leads us to County Road P. We head south on P (another rough road) to Stage Coach Road. We head east (once more getting a tail wind) and a couple of cyclists pass us and say "Hi."


We ride around Lake Katherine, with its turquoise blue water, on Birch Road. Then we get on Old Sauk Pass and climb a big hill. I had expected the terrain to level out more here but that's just not the case. When we reach the radio tower we head east on Old Sauk Road and traverse many small hills on our way into Madison. We meet another cyclist on High Road who wondered if we were part of the group he was meeting for his evening ride.


We ride through Madison and arrive at out hotel, the Radisson Madison. That evening we enjoy a lovely meal with Pam at a lakeside restaurant and celebrate the completion of our 11th tour.

Total Miles: 362


A few weeks after this tour a couple of disasters strike Minnesota.

On August 1st the 35W bridge in Minneapolis over the Mississippi River collapses.

On September 12 there is disastrous flooding that occurs in southeastern Minnesota. Large parts of the Root River Trail are washed out. The town of Rushford is severely flooded. The town of Houston narrowly escapes as the flood waters rise to 19.5 feet on their 20 foot levees. Having just been through there on my bicycle, my heart goes out to all affected.

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