Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tuesday May 14th - Goose Island Campground to Wyalusing State Park

After living in La Crosse for 12 years, I felt some twangs of guilt only spending one night there.  I thought about riding back into town and trying to visit with some old friends, but just didn’t have the energy to get back on the bike and ride back into La Crosse the previous night.  I also didn’t feel like spending another night at Goose Island Camp Ground.  I paid $25 for a picnic table and a place to set my tent up, and then had to pay to use the showers that didn’t work.  So when the sun came up I ate some breakfast and began packing my stuff to continue down river. 

When I was almost done packing, a gentleman and his small shaggy looking dog (the  man was a bit shaggy looking as well, and was missing a few of his upper front teeth, and wore a gruff looking beard) stopped their red pickup truck by my site and began chatting.  I was glad that this was not the same angry man who mouthed profanities at me back in Fountain City, and despite his gruff appearance, he seemed to be a pretty nice guy.  The dog was in a hurry to go, as the man informed me that the dog would lick his hand when he wanted to go, but he must have been used to the man talking as eventually he curled up on the passenger side floor of the truck and settled in for a nap.  The dog was actually the man’s wife’s dog, but the dog spent most of his time with the man.  He told me he lived in La Crosse, in the second trailer park East of La Crosse on Highway 14. 

He spent most of his life in La Crosse and grew up on French Island.  He went into the Army in the mid-70’s, and he wished he would have stayed in longer.  But he had gotten married and was going to be stationed in Korea, so he didn’t reenlist.  He spent some time working as an auto mechanic, and then became a truck driver.  He said the life as a truck driver was tough, he would make trips back and forth across the country, often a couple of them in a week.  And eating food from gas station and restaurants was not too healthy either and eventually he developed diabetes and had to have a portion of his leg amputated, which put an end to his truck driving.  He watches his diet and take pills to keep his blood sugar under control, and so was able to eventually get his regular driver’s license back.   He maintains a camper at Goose Island and spends most of his free time in the camping months at the park or in his boat fishing with the dog on the river.  He wished me well and we both headed off for the day.     

I left Goose Island around 8:30 and was a little worried that my escape might be blocked by a train that had stopped.  Fortunately the exist was not blocked, but something further to the north was holding the Northbound trains up, as there was a string of trains stopped all the way back to Genoa. As I traveled down Highway 35 out of La Crosse, I recalled many other trips I had made down that road and river.  In 1999, I took the wooden row boat I had made (along with a motor just in case) and attempted to row down the river from Goose Island down to Prairie du Chien, a trip of about 60 miles, in two days.  That was my first attempt at a solo adventure and I did make it about half way down the river without rowing.  I had to call my wife from the Genoa Lock and Dam to have her bring me some rain gear, as I had gotten caught in a down pour just before reaching Genoa and realized raingear might be handy.  I did that trip in May as well, and the river was quite high at the time, so all the camping spots on the islands downstream were flooded, making spending another night or two on the river difficult.  So I fired up the motor and finished the trip in two days.  I had parked my truck at the Prairie du Chien wastewater treatment plant which was just above the boat landing.  I knew the City’s Wastewater Superintendent Wayne from my work, and he was kind enough to let me park my truck in the City’s fenced in wastewater plant.  It helped to work with good people. 

I recalled other adventures I had in most of the communities along that stretch of the road.  In the first town Stoddard, I recalled climbing the bluff on the North side of town to do an inspection of the Village’s drinking water storage concrete tank that had been built up on the bluff many years before.  There was no access road, so Rudy the water operator, guided me up the side of the bluff.  Rudy was a heavy smoker (and a decade or two older than me) and I worried that the climb to the top might give him a heart attack (and me as well). When we got to the tank Rudy realized he had forgotten the key to open the hatch, so he started climbing back down to get it. 

I took a look at the rusted old chain keeping the hatch sealed, picked up a rock and with one light blow broke the chain and had access to the tank and water within.   I called out to Rudy to forget about the key and later learned from the Village clerk that the City had had a history of acts of vandalism occurring up at the remote tower.  In previous years when they cleaned the tank out, they found everything from rocks and sticks, to assorted other junk.  Since this was the water that the Village residents had to drink, it seemed it was time to get the Village to build an access road to the tank so the water operator didn’t have to climb a mountain to keep an eye on it, and construct a fence around it to keep the vandals at bay. The Village gave me much grief over the expense of the project, but in the end they did complete the project and hopefully prevented the Village residents from having God knows what end up in their drinking water. 

On this trip, I pulled into the Stoddard Kwik Trip to replenish my supplies, and decided to plug the Ipod in to give me some momentum and cover some miles.  I had hopes of making it the 60 or 70 miles to Wyalusing State Park, located South of Prairie du Chien, and I had heard reports of a strong head wind and temperatures in the 80’s, so I would need all the help I could get if I was to make it that far.  Fortunately the road was relatively flat in this section of the trip and I made pretty good time. 

Rounding the corner into Genoa, the Dairyland Power coal fired and old small nuclear power plant dominated the horizon.  I recalled having to visit that plant as part of my old job duties, and it always made me a little bit nervous to realize that the old nuclear plant, although no longer operating, still contained the old nuclear fuel.  Fortunately it was a very small experimental plant that was not cost effective to operate so they shut it down, but since there was nowhere to dispose of the spent fuel, it still needs to be maintained at the facility.  It was also at the plant where I first got an inside tour of a power plant, and recall being overwhelmed by the complexity of what it takes to produce electricity and manage all the wastes that are generated in the process.   

I also debated stopping by the old water and wastewater operator from the Village of Genoa’s house to see if he was still in the area.  I had met Bob at his house numerous times in the past to conduct work, and gotten to know him pretty good through the years.  I wondered how he was doing, but despite the guilt, I kept on pedaling.  And pulled over for a quick rest stop at the Bad Axe Fish Hatchery located to the south of Genoa that was another facility I had worked with.  At first it seemed strange to me that there would be a concern about wastes from a fish hatchery, but as I got familiar with the operations, I came to realize that raising fish is not much different than raising other animals.  They produce a lot of waste, and if it isn’t managed properly, it causes water quality problems in the receiving waters.  They also use a lot of chemicals to treat the fish and rearing ponds that also can impact receiving streams.

And then there was Victory, the community named after the slaughter of Indian’s during what was called the Battle of the Bad-Axe during the Black Hawk War.  A local doctor by the name of C.V. Porter had the monuments made back in the early Twentieth Century as a memorial to the events.  Some of the messages he had carved into the stone monuments seemed worth noting.

“Site Of Red Bird’s Village, - June 28, 1827.  First battle of the BadAx was fought opposite, between 37 Winnebagos, on Minnesota and Wisconsin Islands, and crew of keel boat O.H. Perry grounded on sandbar.  Fatalities: 4 whites, 7 indians.  The same day Red Bird killed Lip Cap and Gagnier at Prairie du Chien.  He died in prison there.” 

“At shallow pond 115 rods due south Black Hawks 700 Sac Indians encamped July 31, 1832.  Soldiers found six decrepit Indians there and “left them behind”.  Lee Sterling in 1840 found a handful of silver brooches there, hence concluded those killed were squaws.”

“Overnight of August 1 and 2, 1832.  Gen. Akinson’s army of 1200 mounted men in pursuit of Black Hawk encamped on this area from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m.  The spring from which men and horses drank is 140 rods North West.”

“Head of Battle Isle.  On the eve of Aug. 1, 1832, Blackhawk and his men with a flag of truce, went to the head of this island to surrender to the captain of the steamer “Warrior”.  Whites on boat asked are you Winnebagoes or Sacs.  “Sacs” replied Black Hawk.  A load of canister was at once fired, killing 22 indians suing for peace.”

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Not too far down the road and I came across o a couple of Lama’s or Alpaca’s that were grassing the grass from the ditch along the highway.  Someone had installed a temporary enclosure for the critters.  When I stopped to take a look at them, the two friendly looking beasts stopped there feeding and walked over to take a look at me as well. 

The other river Village’s all had other stories, and they played through my head as I keep moving along.  Listening to music would help quiet some of those voices, but many still lingered reminding me of the times I had spent working, and playing along this river road. 
The road became a bit more hilly after my lunch stop at the Governor (LOOK UP NAME OF GOVERNOR WHO WORE THE RED VEST) historical marker that advertised having picnic tables.  The site was actually pretty nice, had some nice tables, with a great view overlooking the wide open expanse of the river at Ferryville.  

On my way out of Ferryville, I came across some kind of female warbler who must have been hit or stunned by a passing car.  At first I thought she was dead, but as I sped by on my bike, it looked like she was still alive, so I turned around to at least get her off the shoulder of the road.  I picked her up and held her in my hand, and she did not look too good.  She could hardly hold her head up and seemed to be breathing pretty hard.  There was not much I could do to help her, so I carried her off the road shoulder and set her down in grassy area out of the sun.  I hoped her suffering would be over soon. 

Climbing the hills, the temperatures seemed to be increasing.  Fortunately the direct sunlight was shield by the trees and bluffs, but as I came out of the hills and hit the Prairie du Chien prairies, the strong wind and high temperatures were taking their toll, so I stopped at a park in the City
of Prairie du Chien near the river that was half flooded.  I ate some snacks and filled my water bottles, and headed back out towards highway 35 and Bridgeport to cross the WI River and head on towards Wyalusing State Park. 

The winds seemed to increase even more as I headed out of PDC and I debated stopping and spending the night in one of the many motels in PDC.  But something kept me going and I peddled up what seemed to be the endless hill to Bridgeport, eventually made it and crossed the river.  

Then I hit the hill leading up to the Park.  It was the longest, steepest grade I had come across so far on the trip.  And then after making it up that, found out the park was all uphill as well.  But when finally made it to the campground, all my toil was worthwhile.  The campground was perched on top of the ridge overlooking the Wisconsin and Mississippi River Valley’s and the City of Prairie du Chien.  The views were amazing and I was able to get a site right on the edge of the overlook.  It must have been about 7 pm when I got to the campground.

Unfortunately the views also dramatized the passing thunderstorms that all the heat had produced and the winds from the south began to pick up making me fear that my tent and all my gear would be blown off the site.  So I hurriedly set my tent up, making sure put the aerodynamic small back end into the wind, and I pulled the picnic table up alongside it to have something substantial to tie it to – just in case.  And once I had it up and all my gear stowed, I grabbed out my food and gobbled it down enjoying the views and hoping the storms would pass by – which they did.  Just a few sprinkles came down and scared me into the tent for a couple brief escapes along with some really strong wind gusts.  

During one of the lulls, a gentleman stopped by to ask if he could borrow my view to take a picture.  I told him to go ahead and offered him the use of my bike or tent as well, but he was only interested in the view.  We talked for a little while before the rains drove him on and I found out he was from Waupaca Wisconsin, the town where I was born.  He told me the town has changed a lot through the years and that he had moved there in 1968.  I also found out he graduated from high school the year I was born in 1962, which made me feel young again.

The campground itself had a good number of campers in it, mostly folks with hardshell campers.  There were a number of what appeared to be retired couples, one younger couple probably in the 20’s next to me, and one family with 3 children who based on their laungauge were not from around here.  My limited linguistic skills lead me to believe it was some kind of Nordic language, and the children also were quite blond and they liked running around in just their underwear. They had rented a motor home, and I assumed must be touring the country in it.  I hoped to chat with them to find out more about their story, but never got a chance to. 

In the end it turned out to be a very nice night at place that helped me recuperate well from my long and challenging day of peddling.  It was a warm night compared to the previous nights – with an amazing view of the setting sun.   It was an appropriate way to celebrate surviving my first week on the road.

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