Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our 5-day Bike Trip in Wisconsin

Friday, May 20 to Tuesday, May 24

We just returned from a 5-day bike trip—Wow, 5 days of biking in a row, that’s a first for this season! We did have to dodge raindrops and some very wicked storms but we managed to have a great time.

COWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WICOWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WI
Friday and Saturday were spent with our tandem club, Couples on Wheels (better known as COWS), biking in and around Chippewa Falls, WI. Hosts for this spring rally were Lane and Linda from Eau Claire. They did a wonderful job planning various routes and events for the weekend. One highlight included the opportunity to climb an official category 5 hill—no problem for our mean machine! Stopping at the Leinie’s Lodge is always a treat—free beer samples and great tours and this year the lodge provided shelter from the rain when needed.
COWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WICOWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WI
Our annual COWS meeting and banquet was held Saturday evening and the food was excellent. The restaurant staff came swarming out of all entrances to serve our group of 36 tandem teams. We ordered from a menu of 4 choices and each choice was delicious! Joan and John Laabs were our escort for the evening as we were vehicle-less for this trip which would allow us to bike towards home following this COWS rally.
COWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WICOWS Spring Rally in Chippewa Falls, WI
Following the banquet, we went out on the town with Dennis and Ingrid. We finally found a quite little bar where we could visit without shouting above the music.
COWS BanquetteCOWS Banquette
Back at our hotel room, we got things ready for our next journey with Kathi and John Johnson. We promised them an early ride start Sunday morning as we would be joining them for the start of their 6-week bike trip east along the Northern Tier towards Bar Harbor, ME. Our plans were to make it at least to Prairie du Chien with them by Tuesday.

The COWS Sunday Breakfast ride was mass starting at 9:00 a.m. but the Veerkamps and Johnsons would already be 2 hours down the road. Only a few COWS couples were up to send us on our way.
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
We headed west towards Durand, WI where we planned on stopping for the day but didn’t plan on such an easy ride. We reached Durand by 10:30 a.m. and then decided to continue biking towards Wabasha hoping to beat the afternoon forecasted rains. We made it to Nelson just as the rain started to pour down, and a great shower it was.
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
The rains lasted only about 10 minutes and then the sun returned to dry us off and stayed with us until we reached our lunch stop at Slippery’s in Wabasha, MN. Lunch was great and the rest was needed. Kathi and I got on the phone to inquire about lodging and we found an AmericInn on the edge of town. We were pleased with our choice. The Inn was very “bike friendly” and even had a sign on the entry window welcoming bikers on the Northern Tier—cool! We were welcomed to the Inn by Steve, our friendly desk manager. After a rest in the whirlpool and a game of Hearts, we walked to the Dairy Queen for a light supper. Lights were turned out early so that we could all get some rest before meeting at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast and another early start to our biking day. We are still trying to beat the storms surrounding us. Tornados were spotted close by with touch downs in La Crosse, our next overnight stop. We felt like true storm chasers as we biked into communities renovated by the visiting tornados. We ended our biking day with 62 more miles on the tandem.
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
Setting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier EastSetting out with the Johnsons as they bike the Northern Tier East
Our second day of riding with the Johnsons took us from Wabasha to La Crosse, WI with a total of 70 more miles on the bike. We were on the bikes and heading towards Winona by 7:00 a.m. We made it to Winona by 9:00 and stopped for a short visit with Ma Storsveen (Deb’s mom) before returning our tires to Wisconsin soil. The decision to bike the Wisconsin side to La Crosse was a good one as we avoided the climb out of Winona on Hwy 43—we celebrated this realization unanimously.
Day 2 on the Northern Tier with John and KathiDay 2 on the Northern Tier with John and Kathi
The skies looked very threatening as we pedaled down the highways but no rain fell today. We did see a rainbow peeking out at us but it soon disappeared as the sky began to clear.
Day 2 on the Northern Tier with John and KathiDay 2 on the Northern Tier with John and Kathi
We detoured through Perrot State Park and then through the town of Trempealeau along the Mississippi River making for a very enjoyable ride. We then got onto Hwy 35 and took it all the way into La Crosse. It had its busy moments but decent shoulders were a big help. We planned to have lunch at Fayze’s downtown La Crosse, but decided to stop at Features in Holmen as our stomachs were demanding food.
Day 2 on the Northern Tier with John and KathiDay 2 on the Northern Tier with John and Kathi
Day 2 on the Northern Tier with John and KathiDay 2 on the Northern Tier with John and Kathi
The chore to find accommodations fell to Kathi and me again. We decided on an Econo Lodge as the price was right. It wasn’t bad but would probably not recommend it to anyone. It did, however, have a very friendly bar within walking distance making our stay more enjoyable. We enjoyed pizza back at the lodge and watched Dancing with the Stars. John then had the great idea to begin tomorrow’s ride at 5:00 a.m. to avoid the morning rush hour traffic out of La Crosse and then have breakfast once through town. We all agreed to this craziness and headed to bed to rest for our next day of riding.
Day 2 on the Northern Tier with John and KathiDay 2 on the Northern Tier with John and Kathi
Morning came early on this last day of our biking adventure with Kathi and John. As we check out of the Econo Lodge, the night manager handed us a bunch of bananas to tie us over until we found a breakfast stop past La Crosse—what a kind soul. It was 5:00 a.m. as we began pedaling towards the outskirts of town.
Northern Tier 091Northern Tier 094
We were 20 miles into our ride when we noticed a quite café open for breakfast. We had the place to ourselves and were treated like royalty. We all ordered the “Scrambled Mess” and when it was set down in front of each of us we all began to laugh. One portion would have been enough to satisfy us all. We had to leave part of this delicious meal behind. The cook thanked us for stopping and then stepped outside to take a peek at our transportation. We offered her a ride but she quietly refused sending us one our way rested and very full.
Northern Tier 101Northern Tier 102
We then got back on our bikes and continued pedaling down Hwy 35 towards Prairie du Chien. The route was very scenic but rather stressful for our captains—heavy traffic and rough shoulders can make for a very long journey. We avoided rain again today and arrived at Prairie du Chien dry and with 64 more miles on the bike.
Northern Tier 108Northern Tier 109
Northern Tier 121 as Smart Object-1 copyNorthern Tier 127
Kathi and John checked into a Microtel and then we all relaxed in the hot tub, walked to Culvers for ice cream and then played cards. Our escort service (daughter, Jill) arrived to pick us up around 1:00 p.m. and we loaded all our belongings into the van while Kathi and John looked on.
Northern Tier 126Dennis and I after our brief Northern Tier Bike ride with Kathi and John
Saying goodbye is always tough after these days of sharing such wonderful moments with our dear tandem friends. We wished them a safe journey east and after a round of hugs, climbed in our van for our journey back to normality.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2011 Santana Chattanooga Tandem Rally

Wednesday, May 4 to Sunday, May 8, 2011

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Our Rans Screamer was introduced to a multitude of Santana Tandems meeting in Chattanooga for a Santana Tour in Tennessee and Georgia. The 4-day ride, held over Mother’s Day weekend, was attended by 37 tandem teams from around the country.

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Our host hotel for the event was aboard the Delta Queen currently being moored on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, TN. The boat dates back to 1925 and continues to be threatened by extinction. Just before our arrival, the ship’s boiler gave out making the ship even less desirable to future purchasers. Will someone step forward to save this historical river cruiser before it’s too late? I sure do hope so.

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Chattanooga itself was a wonderful area for a bike rally. History, beauty, attractions and good food all made for a wonderful weekend. The good weather also added additional benefit to this rally.

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Thursday was open for us in the a.m. to take the free electric trolley across town to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the historic 1909 terminal station that served as the heart of the area’s bustling railway activity.

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Back at the boat, we gathered with other tandem teams out on the grassy grounds along the Tennessee River. We are all welcomed by Bill of Santana Tours and then began our first ride through Chattanooga and across the bike & pedestrian bridge towards the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum where a tour guide awaited our arrival surprising us with a short ride aboard a restored diesel electric passenger train. We then were taken on a walking tour of the railway yards and shops—very interesting as trains were actually being renovated during our visit, mostly done by volunteers.

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Our evening plans started with carousel rides at Coolidage Park and supper served in the park pavilion. The pulled pork was mouth watering!

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The night’s still young so we make a visit to the Texas Lounge aboard the Delta Queen and are immediately invited to join a group of Santana repeaters—Jim, Eileen, Chuck, Linda, David and Susie continued to be very inviting during this tandem rally weekend, very special people.

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Friday began early with a buffet breakfast in the Orleans Room on the Delta Queen. We were excited to hear we would be routed to Lookout Mountain to either bike up the 4-mile, 7% incline or experience the thrill of riding America’s most amazing mile with its 72.7% grade near the top giving the railway the distinction of being the steepest passenger railway in the world. Our tour included tickets on the Incline Railway so we joined the queue waiting to board. Our bike made it up the mountain via a U-Haul truck under Santana’s care. We went to claim our bike and were somewhat disheartened to find it in pieces. With the help of a few other riders, we were able to assemble the wheels and chains to begin our descent down the mountain.

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Along our descent down the mountain was Point Park, host to some of the most beautiful views overlooking the area where the battles for Chattanooga took place in 1863. It was here that the “Battle above the Clouds” was played out between Confederate General Bragg’s forces responsible for pushing Union General Rosencrans and his armies back into Chattanooga where they would prepare for continued fighting under Union leader General Grant which would eventually write the beginning of the end for the South.

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Following our visit of Point Park, we decided to go off route to visit Rock City with Carl and Cindy from Alabama. The crystal-clear view of the 7 states (TN, KY, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL), along with the massive rock formations and gardens made this attraction a highlight of our day—well worth the $20 ticket.

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Back on route, our small group pedaled back up hill towards our lunch break at the Café on the Corner. Fried green tomatoes and mushroom burgers were on the menu for our group. The place was very busy trying to feed our group of 37 teams and I think the cook was overwhelmed as he walked off the job after we placed our order—how bazaar!

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We looked forward to touring Ruby Falls when we finally finished our lunch. The falls have the distinction of being the nation’s highest underground waterfall open to the public. This exceptional day of touring was followed up with a buffet supper in the Orleans Room back aboard the Delta Queen. We were also able to add the state of Georgia to our list of biked-in states bringing the state total to 13.

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Saturday’s ride took us up Missionary Ridge amidst Civil War cannons, stone monuments and plaques detailing Civil War events that took place 150 years ago on the lawns of the homeowners living on the ridge.

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Our next tour was organized at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. On these fields and hills in the fall of 1863, Federal and Confederate armies clashed in some of the Civil War’s hardest fighting. The prize was Chattanooga, key rail center and gateway to the heart of the Confederacy. Union General Rosencrans is replaced by General Grant following the defeat at Chickamauga allowing Grant to put an end to the siege for Chattanooga and giving him the honor of General-in-Chief of all Union armies, a title held only by George Washington until this time. Much of the area in this beautiful park is kept in wartime condition. More than 1600 markers, monuments, cannons and tablets indicate the battle lines of both sides and recount the story of the 1863 battles fought here. As we bike through the park, you could almost see the armies in formation as they battled for victory. The park’s design graphically displays what took place on these hills as the Civil War was nearing its end.

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Today’s lunch was served at an historic mill and included an authentic southern BBQ—the ribs were excellent!

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As we routed back to our host hotel, we were chased by many dogs and also rode through the devastated area visited by tornadoes just one week earlier—so destructive! Supper was on our own this evening but we never felt alone amongst this great group of tandem riders. Jim and Eileen again invited us to join their group of six for pizza in the city.

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Fewer riders joined us this final day of the rally—it’s Mother’s Day Sunday and Dennis and I decide to ride a short out and back route to view Moccasin Bend—the beginning location of the Trail of Tears migration towards Oklahoma. We only saw the site of where a future national park will be in honor of this tragic historical event.

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We were back at the boat with time to pack and then watch some of the teams prepare their bikes for flights home. A farewell brunch was to be our last meal aboard the Delta Queen. We thanked our cooks, William and Paul, for a job well done. They shared with us the challenges they faced cooking for our group in a kitchen with nothing but steam—try to hard boil an egg with only steam!

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We met some wonderful tandem couples and hope to stay connected. We were thankful for the 4 days of great-weather riding in the states of Tennessee and Georgia. Although there were times of frustration and times when expectations were not met, the experience will now be another adventure we survived together.

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Total rally biking miles: 95

Total attending:
37 teams from 20 states (VA, CO, SC, FL, AZ, GA, AL, OH, IN, PA, CA, WA, MD, KY, IA, TN, MA, TX, MO and MN)