Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Great River Road - Bicycle Journy Part II

Images from a bicycle trip up the Great River Road from the Quad Cities to the Twin Cities.  May 2013.  

The Great River Road - Bicycle Journey Part I

Images from the bike trip down the Great River Road from the Twin Cities to the Quad Cities in May of 2013.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saturday May 25th – Lake City almost to Hastings

I woke up a bit late and disappointed that it was already 8 am, but the extra sleep felt good.  I performed my morning ritual of quick eating, packing, and then I was out the door of the Sunset Motel.  It was cloudy and looked like rain and there was a strong wind out of the south, which would mean a nice tail wind.  This could be a day of miles I thought as I passed the guy cleaning the pool.  I talked briefly with the pool guy and the two folks watching him about my trip and asked if the pool was heated.  Found out it was, but he mentioned that he had just fired up the heater that morning – probably in hopes of attracting some Memorial Day weekend travelers.  I also said so long to the guy who lived in the apartment above the motel lobby as he looked down on me from his second story deck.  

Lake Pepin was choppy as I headed north along its shores, and with the wind to my back I picked up speed easily and knew what it must feel like to be sailing one of the sailboats tied up the docks I passed.  The paddle boat the Pearl of the  Lake, was not yet out giving excursion rides, the early morning and gray skies must have put a damper on tourists desires to get out on a morning boat ride around the lake.  A bill board on the way out of town reminded me, per 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In Everything give Thanks…”, so I did – particularly for the tail wind.   

Further down the road as I neared the boundary of Frontenac State Park, there was another sign stuck by the side of the road exclaiming “Save the Bluffs.  Stop Silica Sand Mining”.  Sand mining was definitely perceived as a threat by many folks who lived along the shores of the Mississippi River as it passed through Minnesota and Wisconsin based on the number of signs I saw on my adventure. 

There was also a large pile of trees that been cut down and stacked up along the road side as the road passed through the Park.  I wasn’t sure why the trees had been cut down, perhaps for logging purposes, or maybe to manage the area where it looked like they were trying to create an oak savanna type setting.  Then I wondered if the tree cutting would be covered by another sign posted near the historical marker in the park that said “WARNING.  DEFACING – MOVING OR DESTROYING STATE PROPERTY - $500 FINE”, and if it did, I wondered if the fine would apply to each tree cut down, or only the one act of cutting down all the trees.   The total fine would be significantly different depending on how the fines were tallied.  But then I figured that defacement, moving, or destroying is likely acceptable as long as some money can be made, or it’s done in the name of development, or management.   

The historical marker pointed out that Fort Beauharnois was located “on the shore of Lake Pepin just north of here a French expedition commanded by LaPerriere and accompanied by two Jesuits in September 1727 built a substantial log fort and the mission of St. Michael the Archangel.  The Post was occupied periodically until about 1756.”  So it appeared that cutting down trees and taking away other people’s property also was acceptable as long as there was no recognized “state” in place, and it was done in the name of God, or one of his favored Archangels. 

Passing through the town of Frontenac I stopped to admire the old town hall and small post office painted in matching cream color with green trim.  The post office was busy on that Saturday morning.   

Then as I approached Red Wing, there were the collocated industrial facilities of the Chemstone concrete Plant and the USG interiors ceiling tile plant.  The USG water tower was painted sky blue and the color matched the sky blue exhaust stack as well, which both stood in contrast to the gray sky.   

Across the street from the industries was an old red barn constructed on a limestone foundation that matched the rock outcropping on the bluffs above.  While admiring the sites, a white pickup truck with flashing yellow hazard lights stopped across from me, and I wondered if I was going to get in trouble again for taking pictures of industrial complexes from public property.  But the driver wearing his florescent yellow vest got out of the truck and appeared to throw some grass seed in the ditch and then drove off. 

And with the strong winds to push me along, I soon entered Red Wing, where the population sign pointed out some things folks should be aware of as they entered the City namely that Red Wing was (in blue letters) a “Tax-Free Development! JOBZ MINNESOTA”, (in red letters) that a “SOLID WASTE LICENCE REQUIRED”, and (in black letters) that “VEHICAL NOISE LAWS ENFORCED”.  I wasn’t quite sure what all those reminders meant to me, but figure that perhaps the people that knew what they meant would want to know about them if they came to town.   

Passing by the “Red Wing Correctional Facility”, which looked like a prison to me, but with fancy in-curving fences instead of razor wire to keep the inmates confined, I wondered if those being corrected behind the fence had failed to get a solid waste license or violated the vehicle noise laws, or if that is where folks doing tax-free development got jobz – Red Wing seemed like a tough City.  Then came the old NSP power plant, which was now Excell Energy, but the large yellow “NSP” letters still stood out between the twin smoke stacks of the plant. 

Then there was Barn Bluff on the right side of the road, where as I crossed an overhead bridge, I noticed a group of people had gathered to take part in some type of tour of the bluff as indicated by the hiking sticks and binoculars adorning the folks who had gathered.    

And another ADM – Archer Daniels Midland – processing plant.  This one had a sign located inside the property lines that indicated it was an oil seed processing plant.   The facility had a US flag topping the grain storage silos that matched the flag further in the background on top of Barn Bluff.  Despite the signs warning me that the facility was private property and that the area was under video surveillance, no one stopped me while I took pictures of this ADM site.   

The Red Wing train depot was located upstream of the ADM plant and I watched several people get on-board and de-train from the passing passenger train.  As it was 11 am already, I figured I better get moving if I wanted to make it home tonight, for even with the strong tail wind, I still had a long ways to go.   But I stopped below the old grain bins located past the Depot and walked down to give some thanks to the river for what had been an interesting trip, as this might be the last place I could get easy access to it.  The water looked relatively clean here, and there was not debris floating on top of the water, which was a first for the few times I had touched the river on the trip.  

Heading back up to the main road that runs away from the river, I came across an interesting fellow on a bike pulling a trailer.  I tried catching up to him and then when he stopped, I stopped alongside of him  to find out more about his setup.  He was riding and old blue Schwinn 10 speed, with the ram handle bars turned upright.  He was pulling a homemade trailer with the top covered with several pieces of cardboard bent over the top.  Mounted on the handlebars of the bike was a stuffed version of “Fluffy” the thee headed beast from the Harry Potter story, and in front of fluffy was a small wooden crucifix.  On the back of the trailer was a cardboard sign that said “TRAVELING J WILL WORK GOD BLESS”. 

I learned the man’s name was Tim and he had a brother named Tom, and he seemed to be a homeless biker.  He told me he was 51 years old, and had put over 3000 miles on his rig traveling around the country.  He mentioned he had invested about $7 into the construction of his bike trailer and I compared that to the over $300 I had into panniers and racks I had on my bike, let alone the over $1000 for my bike.  He was wearing blue jeans, a red and blue checkered flannel shirt, with a tee shirt underneath that had images of ferries, wizards, and other imaginary creatures emblazoned over a tie-died pattern.  He had a camouflage patterned hat on his head, and black tennis shoes on his feet.  He wore large sunglasses over his eyes and had a scruffy beard, and braided pony tail hanging from his head.  He also had headphones in his ears, one of which he removed while we talked. 

He was in the area collecting morel mushrooms.  I told him about the mushrooms I saw back in the La Crosse and he confirmed they were morels.  He said he can get good money from the mushrooms from stores that sell them to customers.  He also had a daughter who lives north of the twin cities along with 5 grandchildren who he visits when he is in the area.  He was on his way to see a friend in Lake City that day.  He spent the night before in the park under one of the shelters as it was raining, and mentioned that is typical of his camping spots.  He figures the worst that can happen is some cop can just tell him to leave.  He carries a tent with him, but often just sleeps in the military style waterproof bag he has.  He also has his pots and pans for cooking tucked away somewhere on the trailer.  His income is supported by money folks give him when he is on the road.  He said most folks will give him a dollar or two, but on occasion someone will give him $50 or more.

I gave him a $5, which he said was not necessary, but I gave it to him anyway, probably to relieve my guilt.  I also figured it was worth at least $5 to hear his story, in some ways I envied his simple lifestyle and felt awkward with all my fancy and expensive gear and clothing as I listened to him.  I felt guilty again and considered giving him more money, but justified not doing so by telling myself he would probably go out and just buy pot with it.   He explained to me the liberalization of the marijuana laws and that getting caught with small amounts of it was no longer considered a serious crime in most states.  So it sounded like pot use was one of his pleasures in life.  He also talked some about how he avoided people he meets that are on meth, which he could spot from a distance.  He advised that they would steel anything you had just to sell it to get more money to buy more drugs.

He talked some about his early life, when he used to use pills.  He said his grandmother worked at a pharmacy, and she would take certain pills that had been discontinued and that he would get them from her.  He was in the army for a while, but it didn’t work out for him so he got out.  At one point in his life he was living with a girlfriend who he caught cheating on him.  He walked out on her into the cold winter night and then got a ride from a truck driver to California.  It was there that he was introduced to this guy who had set up some kind of coupon clipping scheme where Tim was able to make good money.  Later he worked for some time in a fabricating shop where he made good money, had a house, bought a new car, and enjoyed his work designing and fabricating equipment.  But when the owner of the shop’s wife died, the owner became difficult to work for and Tim eventually left that job and life. 

We must have talked for over an hour, and when he mentioned that he was a talker I believed him.  I told him that if I was to make it home, I had to get going, so I thanked him for talking with me and he headed to cross the parking lot and road to head back down river to Lake City, and I the opposite way.  As he was leaving the Taco Bell parking lot, a woman in a SUV had stopped to wait for him to go in front of her, and waived at him annoyingly to go ahead.  Tim responded to her to “go ahead, I’m in no hurry” which seemed to be a good attitude to have.  And I headed back up river and out of
Red Wing, through the Cannon River valley, past the sign to the Treasure Island Casino, and back up the hill through the limestone cuts that were blasted away to make way for the Great River Road I was traveling. 

Once on top of the ridge again, I noticed a sign that indicated the MN National Guard 44 Chemical Company had been cleaning up trash along this stretch of the highway since 2001.  I had seen quite a few “adopt a highway” type signs of various types in the States I had passed through with a lot of different groups lending a hand to pick up the trash.  I suppose it was a good and honorable thing to pick up trash after people – just as it is a good and honorable thing to be willing to step in and clean up the nuclear waste and chemical weapons that might be used in a war.  But I often wondered that in the long term if picking up after people, just makes it easier for people to just keep throwing trash out their car windows – or in the case of war, that as long as we have troops trained to decontaminate equipment and people it makes it more likely to dump chemical, biological and nuclear weapons on other people to kill or maim them.  For as long as someone comes along to clean it up – what harm is done?  It just goes away.  Perhaps if we allowed it to pile up along the roadside, we might wake up and realize what slobs we really are, and then we might change our ways and stop trashing the planet – and maybe we would stop training troops for war as well if we had to face the full horror of what our weapons did to people and the planet. 

Then it was passed more small farmsteads with bent vanned windmills no longer in use, and behind them the huge hundreds of acres of rolling fields denuded of all life in preparation for the corn that had been planted to thrive in the chemically enhanced sterile looking soil.  The large corn storage bins in the background likely sat empty, waiting for next fall’s harvest to refill the bins so the farmer could wait until crop prices were at the highest before he would dump the commodity on the market.   

Then past another barn that looked vacant of any cattle, but had three tractors parked out front, and then another white church with a crucifix topped steeple nearly touching the gray clouds above.   And a series of galvanized gray steel center point pivot irrigation rigs parked amongst last year’s corn stubble, waiting to water the circular patches of corn that would dot the land.   Then a cell phone tower parked next to a pile of crushed limestone from a quarry located below the 
And one more cemetery parked next to the farm fields, where our ancestors where planted for we hoped an eternity.  I wondered why the need to preserve our bodies for so long, and why the fear of decay and contact with the rest of the world?  We had no problem with leaving the dead deer lie on the shoulder or ditch next to the road where after a year the bodies decayed and were consumed by the scavengers who fed on them, and all that was left where their dried and scattered bones.  But when it came to our own bodies we feared the natural process and tried to fight it off by injecting our perished bodies with chemical preservative, and then packing our preserved selves in padded and embroidered painted steel boxes, that would be placed inside a concrete vault, where our pickled bodies would remain under the cold earth, for perhaps centuries.   

Our fear of death, and desire for the appearance of eternal life through chemistry and proper storage practices seemed pretty fatalistic in the end – an ultimate form of denial of the reality of what we are and who we are not – simple creatures of impermanent flesh and bones just like the others we share the planet with, not the supreme infinite beings we liked to think of ourselves as.       


Monday, May 27, 2013

Friday May 24th – Lacrosse to Lake City

With the disturbances in the campground the night before cutting into my beauty sleep, I crawled out of the tent at the rather late hour of 8 am. I quickly started packing up my gear, ate a quick breakfast, washed my face with my handy wet wipes, and was ready to leave my old home town by around 9 am.    

Before taking off, I took a few pictures around my campsite of the view of the twin old and new bridge spans climbing up and over the Main Channel of the River above my campsite, and almost stepped on some wrinkly looking light colored mushrooms that grew along the shoreline between me and the backwaters.   

I thought the mushrooms looked like the famous morels I had heard about and looked at the trees to see if I could figure out if they were elms that the mushrooms were apparently so fond of.  Since there were quite a few of the mushrooms, and I had heard how tasty they could be, I thought about picking some, but as I had nothing to cook them with and wasn’t sure about their identity, I decided to leave them grow to maturity in peace.  I stopped at the campground restroom to fill my bottles with the rusty/cloudy campground water and hoped it was safe to drink and headed back across the waters to Minnesota.  

Getting back to the Great River Road, I noticed that the State of Minnesota had also designated the road as the “Disabled American Veterans Highway”.  I wondered how many disabled veterans found that tactic an honor, or how many motorist even noticed the small green designation sign as they sped by?  All I knew for sure was that if I had been a veteran and been disabled, and had to go through some of the hassles I have heard about in trying to get proper care and treatment for the damages they suffered due to war, I didn’t think I would feel honored by such a tribute, but that is only me speaking after my minor inconvenience of waking up grumpy after having my sleep interrupted – which is nowhere near the inconvenience suffered by disabled veterans – so I tried to let that thought go.   

And speaking of disabled creatures – I passed a large number of turtles that had been hit by passing motorists speeding across the filled in areas of the water way.  Their crushed shells were a reminder of how we seem to take it for granted that it is acceptable to design our highways with little if any regard for the other creatures that need to travel along the roadways – especially if it would mean added design expenses.  So we simply waste the turtles so we don’t have to waste our time or money.  And then that got me thinking about how our society seems to thrive on the whole concept of waste.  A green Waste Management semi-truck passed me by, and I thought about how we have created whole industries who profit from our wasteful practices, and then we create government agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency I worked for when I was not taking leaves of absence to go for extended bike rides who try to set up rules and regulations to manage how we manage all the waste.  

Waste seemed to be the common theme that was jumping out at me on what I had been experiencing on my travels.  We wasted ground water to wash our cars, we wasted it to water our lawns and irrigate our crops that often times was used produced the ethanol that in part fueled our cars, and then we wasted it to move our human wastes from our bathrooms to somewhere else where we didn’t need to see it, smell it, or think about it.  And then we produced stuff we didn’t really need, but thought we did because of the brainwashing we received since birth that the accumulation of stuff was the meaning of life, and that more stuff meant we would be safer in the future.  So we pursued more stuff instead of looking for the happiness within ourselves, along with bigger stuff, or stuff that made more noise or burned more fuel faster, or got us somewhere away from where we were faster. 

And then in the process of making all that stuff, we created industrial waste, or hazardous waste, or waste we didn’t even know how to classify or what the consequences of disposing it would be.  And in the past these practices produced Superfund sites, or groundwater cleanup sites, or landfills, or wastewater treatment plants.  But we thought we were safer, despite the new threats that made us more afraid.  And then the fertilizers we used to produce our food and our fuel and our green bio-plastics ended up as waste when it ran off the land and into the Mississippi River and ended up wasting the life in the Gulf of Mexico creating “dead zones” where life no longer existed – at least life as we used to know it in that place.  So then we tried to create refuges for life by skimming off some of the profits from the whole waste lifestyle we lived and diverted it back to our feel good refuges, our parks, our preservers, our public service agencies, and non-profit organizations – so that we could keep wasting our resources on our wasted life’s.   And then we create armies and munitions to defend this whole way of life, because as we had been told and sold on the line that “freedom isn’t free”, it costs lives and of course dollars as well. 

So I decided to stop wasting my time and start peddling faster as I passed another Kwik Trip, where I saw another green John Deer lawn tractor being pulled behind a truck and fueled up with $3.999 per gallon ethanol blended gas and hit the “Theodore Foss Memorial Highway”, which was also still the  “Great River Road”, as well as the “Disabled American Veteran Highway”.   

Corporal Foss was a State Trooper who was killed on the highway while making a traffic stop on August 31st, 2000 on Interstate 90, which I found myself traveling down for a short while.  And while pulling in to the rest stop at the Lock and Dam, I noticed more construction going on adjacent to the multi-memorialized road which besides it I90 designation also contained US Highways 14 and 61. 

I would thankfully soon exit the much traveled Interstate and follow the Great River Road up Highway 61 North to Winona, but in the meantime I had some more internal conversations about how many other lives had been wasted or disabled by simply getting in car “accidents” along the memorial highway, the passengers and drivers who went unrecognized for giving up their lives in pursuit of achieving their own version of the American Dream.  I had passed many a makeshift memorial to those poor lost souls along my journey down and up the Great River Road – the fading plastic flower wreathes hung on a right-of-way marker or strapped to a guard rail, the painted wooden crosses with a name and date scribed on it pounded into the ditch next to the road – but never a formal state sponsored plaque or marker along the roadside.  We seemed to take for granted that ultimate cost of our freedom to drive our cars wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted – or at least we in the business of governing didn’t like to promote such memories – as it might tend to turn our dream into a nightmare.     

As I exited the Theodore Ross Memorial Highway, I noticed more large homes propped up on the upper levels of the bluffs – more memorials to that ultimate American Dream of the big house on the hill overlooking the river valley, a place to drive up and down to every day to get away from the places we drove up and down to in order to support our lifestyles – that carried away our negative thoughts with their awe-inspiring views.    

And then I passed by one of the remnants of the most popular fruits amongst the travelers of the Great River Road based on the number of peels I passed (and one of my favorites on this trip as well) – the Guatemalan grown and cloned banana peel.  In this particular case determining the home of the peel was possible because of the permanent plastic label left on the peel before placing it on the passing pavement where it was thought it would perish and not be noticed by a passerby-er.  Being organic in nature, many drivers of the Great River Road found it more convenient to simply toss the peel out their powered car window, than to leave them fester in the car until they got to their destination to properly dispose of.    

What is interesting about the banana peel on the paved shoulder of the road is that with heat and drying, the yellow soft peel transforms into a hard almost huge black spider like object that perhaps survives for many years in this desiccated form.  The discarded peel reminded me of an incident that happened to me while walking along a side-walk half a lifetime ago while going to college back in Platteville where I was walking along and then slipped on a fresh banana peel and nearly did the splits, in front of a busload of onlookers.  It was amazing to me what memories a banana peel could bring back from the past. 

Then I passed another pile of desiccated remnants – bones this time, and deer bones in particular, which could be properly identified by the black cloven hoof, still intact at the base of the tibia and fibula of the fallen deer, but there was no skull – where did it go?   I now understood where the term “bone dry” came from.   

Then I passed by another reminder of bones – a mound – but unlike the mounds left behind by the previous folks who inhabited the land a thousand years ago, this modern mound was constructed to honor our waste – excrement in this case – which likely was due to high groundwater making disposal of the waste in a conventional in ground septic system ineffective, so the raised mound was installed.  Some day in the distant future, archeologists would likely excavate that mound thinking it was a burial site for some important  noble man or woman, only to find excrement and perhaps a few other treasures that might have mistakenly been flushed down the porcelain god of the past.  The conclusion likely would be that these former inhabitants foolishly worshiped their waste, which was the likely reason they perished and no longer inhabited the land.   

With all this stuff on my mind, and despite all the stuff on my bike, the relatively flat miles to Winona passed in what seemed like no time and I found myself passing by the billboards that line the highway outside of the Cities advertising where enticing stuff could be purchased.  And one billboard that stuck out was from the Mainstream Firearms & Marine store which was home to over “1000 Guns”, the “Go-Devil” boat, and pawn shop.  For the more stuff you had, the more guns you would need to protect yourself from those who had less.   

And then something else stuck out, the rock formation above Winona known as “Sugar Loaf” which was a remnant of quarrying activities that took place on the bluff back in the late 1800’s where the limestone was used to build sidewalks and buildings in the City of Winona below.   

Feeling a need for a sidewalk escape from the highway to stuff and waste I had been stuck on for most of the morning, I detoured on to the path the ran between the highway and adjacent Lake Winona and reclaimed some sense of peace as I passed pedestrians out for a midday stroll or jog along the path.  At one point I passed a young mother pointing out the fish swimming amongst the near shore plants to her even younger daughter, which renewed my sense of hope, perhaps foolishly. 

I realized a need to get out of the mindset I was in, plugged in the previously repaired IPod headphones to my ears, turned up the music and tried just pedaling in order to achieve that meditative mindless state.  I was hoping to make it to Lake City that night, a place I knew to be about half way between La Crosse and home, which if I could make it to would place me almost with in one more day of peddling to my home and out of my mind which was starting to sound a bit crazy to me.  It also might allow me to reach that elusive goal of the 100 mile day in that last stretch to home, something else that seemed like a worthwhile goal, if for no other reason than to be able to say that at least for one day I had traveled 100 miles on a bike.  

Before I knew it I was in the small riverside town of Minneiska where I stopped for a moment to rest in the shade of the larger than life roadside mostly blue and green mural depicting the river valley below that had been painted on the large retaining wall besides the side road overlooking the river valley below.    

And what seemed but a short time later, I was in another small town of Kellogg passing its sky-blue colored water tower topped by the old “red, white, and blue, all backed by a blue sky, where shortly later I passed another large green lawn nestled below the bluffs being mowed by another green John Deer lawn tractor with a sign out front that declared the place was “Nearly A Ranch” – of lawn that was.   

Then there was the huge sand pile that had been deposited alongside the highway by the main channel dredgers – likely to be processed by some purveyor of sand for profiting from some unknown usage of the extra-large bulk quantity of silica material.   

Which then lead me to the Lake Pepin plaque placed by the Geological Society of Minnesota that declared: 
Lake Pepin occupies the Mississippi Valley above this point for a distance of 22 miles.  The lake is formed by the delta of the Chippewa River which enters the Mississippi directly east of this site.
The Chippewa, a relatively small river, has a much steeper gradient than that of the Mississippi.  It was therefore able to transport more sand and coarser gravel than the master stream could remove.  In consequence the Mississippi was dammed back in the gorge to form Lake Pepin.
The surface of the lake is 664 feet above sea level and 450 feet below the top of the bluffs which line its shores.
The sand and limestone walls of the gorge are composed of material deposited in Cambrian and Ordovician seas when the continent was submerged some 400 million years ago. 
The bottom of the gorge is 150 feet below the lake surface having been filled to its present elevation as the carrying power of the river decreased.

In the state of mind I had been in on that particular day, I wondered when an addendum to the plaque would be added that would describe how the Lake was eventually filled in by the sediment that was carried downstream to the lake by some other feeder rivers – namely the Minnesota – that drained the agricultural lands that dominated the State Minnesota’s interior lands, eventually filling in the once large lake – and putting an end to the dominance of agriculture on the then soil depleted former prairie lands.  

Passing on from that depressing thought I peddled up and down the bluff side hills along the lake, passing a couple – he with a bike loaded down with gear, and she with a gear free bike –  heading the opposite way who I wished a good trip to as they passed by the rock that slid down into the road shoulder from the eroding bluff next to the road.  Then there was one more dead bird, and Lake City was in view.  

I went by a marina filled with sailboats safely secured, stopped at the first inn of the town only to learn the cheapest stay was a whopping $150 a night, and was referred to the lower cost motels a few blocks up the lake.  There I settled for the Sunset Motel, for a more reasonably priced $68 per night.  I carried my bike up the three steps to my room, unpacked my stuff, showered; walked over to the adjacent Burger King for a Veggie Burger, large fry, and a smoothie; and polished them off in my room where I soon called it a night.  I had made it 73 miles, despite my negative outlook, and it felt good to be home for the night, and perhaps one day more of peddling from my home of old.