Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Minneapolis, MN to Viroqua, WI: "You must have an amazing butt!"

Since this is the very first blog post where I actually tour, I’ll provide a little more background. Thus, this post can be the starting place of anyone who wants to “start from the beginning.”

In March of 2017 I left my job at Epic Systems in Verona, WI to bike around the world. After a few weeks of goodbyes and going through my bucket list of items for Madison, I moved my meager belongings to a closet in a friend’s house in Minneapolis, MN. I stayed with my mom (also in Minneapolis) for a few weeks, visiting friends from high school and preparing for tour.

...and exploding my things all over her basement. Thanks, Mom!

While in Minneapolis, there was a certain peace that came over me -- it occurred to me that, for this brief period in my life, I had nothing to do. While a few people had already bought postcards for my bike around the world, I could theoretically return the money and do… well, anything. Or hey… nothing.

Of course, I am not the kind of person to do nothing. After a week of getting up whenever I wanted and letting the dog out every two hours, I began to get restless. The pieces of the tour (bike parts, mostly, but also some sewing projects, like reflective striping on my jacket) were slowly coming together, and at some point, there was just one piece I needed for my bike. I had ordered it online and it was supposed to arrive later that week, but I didn’t want to wait. After calling around to 7 bike shops in the area, I managed to find it and complete my bicycle.

I've dubbed her Louisa.

On Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, I left my mom’s house in Minneapolis by bike. She rode with me for the first 15 miles; then, on the bank of the Mississippi in St. Paul, we hugged, she stopped taking photos long enough to hug me, and then I pedaled on without her (while she continued to take photos).

I don't always wear a giant pink thing on my head -- that's a rain cover. Love you, Mom.

There was one thing missing from my entourage: my tent was waiting for me in Madison. I was planning to use a waterproof shell for my sleeping bag known as a “bivvy” (short for “bivouac”), but was still hesitant to sleep in the rain, and it was supposed to rain that night. I had planned to make it to Red Wing, a mere 60 miles from Minneapolis, but neglected to account for the bend in the river.

As a result, when I thought I was passing through Hastings, I was only passing through West St. Paul (with no “Welcome to…” signs to show me my error), and when I passed a map that showed me still 15 miles from Hastings… I was pretty frustrated. I didn’t have the energy to make it to Red Wing, much less sleep in the rain. So, I called in a favor -- my mom found a friend of a friend in Prescott, WI, happy to feed and house me for the night, for which I was most grateful. The warm bed and a story from a marina manager I ran into at Chipotle kept my spirits up (check the map in a few days for the story), despite the rain and the 30 effective miles after 60 miles of pedaling a winding river.

Thursday was better -- it was sunny, and the river wasn’t so windy. It was supposed to rain again on Friday, so my goal was to make it to another person kind enough to house me indoors: this one, a Warmshowers host in Viroqua, WI (Warmshowers is more or less Couchsurf, but exclusively for touring cyclists). I was still 30 miles behind, as I had chosen Viroqua assuming I’d spend my first night in Red Wing, so I had 2.5 days of riding to do in 2 days. But, it was sunny, and warm, and less windy, and all in all a pretty non-eventful day, except that being non-eventful was an event in itself given the happenings of the previous day.

Nothing eventful going on here.

I did my first stealth camp of the trip, finding a spot behind what appeared to be a construction site of some kind outside of Minnesota City, MN, just before Winona, WI. I was almost unstealthy the next morning -- I turned my headlamp off a second too late as a car drove by the side road and stopped for a few seconds, looking my way, I imagine, before continuing on and dismissing me as nothing worth investigating.

On day 3 I made it through Winona before realizing the next bridge to the other side of the river (the side I wanted to be on) was I-90 -- and I didn’t know if it had a pedestrian ramp or not. After a fair bit of Googling using Kwik Trip’s wifi, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of biking down and needing to bike back to Winona or biking an additional 40 miles to the next crossing in Lansing, IA, so I went back through Winona to cross into Wisconsin. I also left the Mississippi River Trail, MRT, or, as I’d been calling it in my head, the “Mert,” to forge my own path.

Goodbye, Mert.

Then, the rain came.

And the headwind.

And the hills.

Wisconsin was not happy to see me.

Not for the first few hours, anyways. After making it through a quaint little town called Trempealeau, I discovered a gravel trail that would take me the rest of the way to La Crosse, where I planned to get lunch and plan a route to Viroqua. Riding on that trail seemed to pacify whatever forces were unhappy to see me -- the wind died down, the sun came out, and turns out most of the trail was through a wildlife reserve.

After making it to Onalaska, a city just 2 miles north of La Crosse, I realized I had no idea where I was going. The trail didn’t continue on to La Crosse, and even after getting there, I still needed to find an info center to get a map of Wisconsin -- I was still using the periphery of the Minnesota map I’d been using the past few days. But Minnesota was behind me now.

Fortunately, there was a bike shop in front of me. Coulee Bicycle Co -- formerly known as Blue Heron -- which had, coincidentally, just transformed from a “let’s sell lots of bikes” business model to a “stop by and have coffee and let’s geek out about mechanic-ing” bike shop. So I went in… and had coffee… and we geeked out about mechanic-ing.

Kevin, the owner, was not only incredibly helpful in getting me on my way and kind in letting me take lunch at his shop and use his wifi to plan my route outside of La Crosse, he was just a cool character. The reason, he said, he changed from the Blue Heron model to the Coulee Bicycle Co model, was because he didn’t want to focus on meeting quotas -- he wanted to focus on providing awesome service. The shop was mostly service space and a few tables for (complimentary!) coffee, but the few bikes that were for sale were unquestionably beautiful. I was glad I’d stopped by, and regret not having taken more photos.

I also ran into a fellow cyclist who shared not one, but two stories with me, so I’ll place them on the map shortly.

And then… it was on to La Crosse! Kind of! Because I almost immediately got lost again. But in getting lost, I discovered that La Crosse was where Kwik Twip is based.

Where you can get every kind of fuel you ever wanted.

And I also ran into Cal.

“Are you lost?”


“How far did you bike today?”

“40 miles so far.”

“You must have an amazing butt! homo.”

Cal was quite kind. And retired. And thus had free time. And since I was worried about making it to Viroqua before nightfall, and was lost, he gave me a ride out of town. Cal also told me a story, so that will go on the map soon as well.

The route Cal and I settled on was highway 14, which was apparently the least hilly route out from the river basin, but it was still very hilly…

What's around the bend? More hill.

...and after a while, the shoulder kind of disappeared… that sucked. It also started to rain, and there was a headwind, so Wisconsin again became rather uninviting -- rain, headwind, traffic, small shoulder. The last six miles to Viroqua had a nice commuter path and the sun was kind enough to come out, but when I got to Viroqua, I didn’t have service, and thus could not contact my Warmshowers host… it was completely my fault for betting on my cell phone to finalize the details. I did find internet at a McDonald’s to see if she had e-mailed me; she had not. It wouldn’t be until I got to Madison two days later that I would find out she had texted me (per my request -- again a shortsighted one) confirming I could stay… since it wasn’t two days later, I filled up my water, headed out of town, and settled in for night two of stealth camping.

A rainy night.

Without a tent.

This was when I discovered my bivvy sack was not waterproof.

Doom approaches. Wet, miserable doom.


  1. Great blog, update and photos. Love you.

  2. Oh man, rainy nights are rough when you HAVE a tent. I can't imagine trying to sleep directly in the rain :( On the plus side, when things get tough later on, you'll be able to look back and say "Well, at least I'm not sleeping in the rain without a tent..." :P

    1. I was under some trees, I'm not sure if that helped or not though -- probably not because I was never sure when it stopped, as the trees would drip! But yea, cycle touring is full of ups and downs, and the contrast is one of the many great things about it. Thanks for the comment!