A Lake Pepin 2015 tour report

I hitched a ride from Minneapolis on Friday afternoon, courtesy of Paul’s mom. (Thanks!) I killed a few hours checking out the town, getting some new stoneware along with chowing on some excellent pizza and drinking fine beer from Red Wing Brewery. (My favorite: The Remmler’s Royal Brew, a recreation of a Red Wing brewed pre-prohibition lager. Lagers back then tasted good!) The pre-ride meetup was at the Staghead, and I ran into some familiar faces that I saw last year. My riding partners for the post-Pepin tour, Chris aka Pondero and Steven aka GravelDoc, showed up from their long drive northward from Texas.* We all chatted, had a few beers, and went to our respective crash spaces to get a good night’s rest before the festivities.

Saturday morning was warm but cloudy. The forecast for the weekend was not good, and seemed to get worse with each new update: while there was a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms for Saturday, Sunday was going to be worse, at 70% and a chance of severe t-storms that could see heavy rain, lightning, hail, tornadoes, canned hams, frogs, and witches. Not good, not good. 2014, the first year I went, was the only year in the 10+ year history of the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour to have no precipitation. I lucked out for my first ride, but luck wouldn’t be on our side this year. Oh well. Spirits were still high amongst the eighty-something participants, and many a fine three speed and three speeder outfit was ogled. With much pomp and circumstance, the riders took off in drips and drabs around 9 am.

Since this was my second year I had a decent idea as to what to expect. So I wanted to do a few things differently this time. A week or so before the ride another “Gentleman Cyclist” hatched the idea of a quintuple pass-storming challenge. The main route via Wi 35/US 61 is flat to rolling, there is one significant hill, the climb out of Bay City, WI. The four other climbs are “extra-curricular”. I did the Wabasha Bluffs and Hill Ave. on the MN side last year, so that left Maiden Rock Overlook in WI and Flower Valley Road in MN to complete the challenge. And I also wanted to get as much gravel riding in as well!

The first ten miles toward Bay City went smooth, and people started to break into clumps. Bay City Hill was a little workout. The climb starts out gradually until it ratchets up to about 6% grade near the top. At the top of the hill by Tabor Church people gathered after the climb. And a special treat: the Canadians from Winnipeg provided Molson Canadian for all of us to enjoy! Then a screaming descent down to (Mississippi) River level, and the first big stop: Pelican Bakery in the town of Maiden Rock. This spot always makes something special for the Three Speed Tour, this year was a Bakewell Tart in all its raspberry and almond gloriousness.

The tart fortified me for what would be the hardest part of the day: the climb up to the Maiden Rock overlook. The side road started off easy enough before all of the sudden ratcheting up to at least a 10% grade, if not more. I managed to not walk, mostly by tacking back and forth along this quiet road. I would worry that the Bakewell Tart would come out the wrong end for the next few hours, though. The hill mellowed out, rolling through farmscape. At this point it was myself, Chris, and Steve. We turned onto an unmarked side gravel road that led to a small parking area. From there it was a small path to the overlook. Everything I ever heard about the path to the overlook was that it was rideable, but rough, so off we went. We soon learned the folly of this, as this was a narrow, winding, and muddy foot path. A real mountain biker might pull it off, but we were not. We abandoned the bikes halfway through and walked the rest of the way to the overlook, where we were greeted with a great view of the Mississippi Valley and the riders below. (Later on I learned there used to be a rough road that went out to the end, but we obviously didn’t find that.)

It was a screaming descent into Stockholm, where we were supposed to grab lunch. It was easy for Chris and Steve, being omnivores, but it was slim pickings for me, as the lunch spots were either unwilling to make something special for a vegetarian like me, or it was really expensive. ($14 for a black bean burrito?) Feeling cranky and dejected, I cruised down to the riverfront park to eat the leftover pizza I brought just in case this happened. But what is this? A bunch of three-speeders had made a veritable feast of a picnic lunch in the shelter, and they invited me to eat since there was so much food! Yes! They apparently ran into the same situation as did I, and vowed to make a picnic here ever since. Smart move.

The rest of Saturday’s ride was uneventful, as WI 35 mellows out a bit, so the miles passed by. I debated having dinner in the village of Pepin but decided to hold out for Wabasha. I did manage to get a shot of the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical marker (Little House In The Woods is based here.) And got a little gravel, too. The crossing of the Chippewa River Delta went on forever, but the cheese factory in Nelson was the reward. And another Mississippi crossing, back to Minnesota!

The dinner and ceremonies at Eagles Nest in Wabasha was a bit lackluster, as everyone left early due to the threatening skies. Steve, Chris, and myself retired to the Anderson House for the evening.

Sunday morning hit and everyone was worrying about the weather report, as the forecast got more dire each time it was updated. Would we be swept away in a flood or sucked up by a tornado? The only thing we could do was set out. Steve, Chris, and I were still shooting for the Quintuple Pass Challenge. I was looking forward to climbing the Wabasha Bluff again, since I did it last year. The alternate routings today would mean we could avoid almost all of busy US 61. While we’d miss some lake views, I was totally okay with that.

The climb up to Wabasha Bluff was a nice steady grade upward, only hitting 6% towards the last half-mile or so. When we got to the top we were rewarded with a great view of the rolling farmscape that is atop the bluffs, a landscape not visible from the highway below. And it was windy! Thankfully the wind was mostly at our back, and we zoomed down a good hill into Lake City, where the “Brew Up” was happening at a lakeside park. We set up our kettles and got to work. I always feel a little underprepared for this part, mostly because due to my situation I can’t haul in all the cool stuff that those who drove in from shorter distances can. Still, I ogled other folks’ setups, and there were some nice ones!

After Lake City, it was time for my favorite part of the ride: the ramble along gravel Territorial Road. A nice quiet road with nice scenery and a cool one lane truss bridge–wait, what happened to the bridge? OH NO! They tore it down and put in a “modern” two lane concrete bridge in its place! ARGH!

Well, at least they didn’t tear down the stone wall in old Frontenac! We layed our bikes along the wall and took the obligatory photos, though I don’t remember if anyone pulled out a pipe. Then gravel Hill Ave, a nice climb over another bluff (Pass No. 4 for those who are counting), followed by a good descent. There had been reports of loose gravel in the past, but this year it was all good.

We hopped on US 61 for a few miles, the only significant stretch we’d be on the busy road. Appropriately it rained right at this point, the only real rain that we got, despite the dire forecast. But it was warm (upper 70’s) so I knew it’d be pointless to throw on the rain cape, and it ended in less than 10 minutes anyway. So we were refreshed, so to speak, for the final climb, Flower Valleyย Road. While the road had a wide shoulder, someone went through the trouble of building a separated bike path (complete with tunnel under the road at one point!) so we could lollygag along the way. The views nice (yes, there were flowers), and a nice gradual grade with a little steepness at the very end. We had completed all five passes, and now we were on the edge of Red Wing (and mostly all downhill to the end!)

And like that, it was over. Everyone packed up their bikes and kit and got in their cars. Many headed back over to the Staghead gastropub (open on Sunday just for us!) to have an after-ride drink and bite, and to hang out one last time. I chatted up folks, said some goodbyes. It would have been nice to linger a bit longer. But Steve, Chris and I had to drive about 90 minutes south to get to La Crosse, WI for our next adventure. So off we went!

*Chris lives outside of Fort Worth and picked up Steven who lives in the Missouri Ozarks.

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5 thoughts on “A Lake Pepin 2015 tour report

  1. This looks and sounds like such a great ride. Hmm…Maybe I should do the next edition of it!

    Your confirmed something that Midwesterners have told me. It’s best summed up by someone I knew in graduate school. “Vegetarianism is illegal in the State of Wisconsin–and in all other Midwestern states,” he said only half-jokingly. He added, also in jest, that it’s the reason he moved to NYC.

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