First of all, I apologize for the quality of the photos. But riding in a driving rainstorm will do that to your phone's camera. Even if said phone was inside a plastic baggie and in a jersey pocket or in a saddle bag.
Almost 800 riders turned out for the 7th annual Tour de Pepin. This was our first time, but we plan on being back next year--hopefully under better weather conditions!
For those of you not familiar with my previous posts on this beautiful part of our nation, Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake that the Mississippi River forms at its widest point. It's about 60 miles from Twin Cities, surrounded by high tree-covered bluffs, and is an amazing mix of recreational areas, small towns, wildlife preservation districts, and historic sites. There are boats out on the water, bald eagles, people fishing, gorgeous views, great local shops, and mosquitoes that will take up your entire knuckle if they land on your hand. Did I mention it's the birthplace of water skiing?
These first couple pics are from Friday evening (note the sunshine) at check-in in Lake City. The entry fee was reasonable, everything considered. You got a water bottle, t-shirt, drink tickets from a local winery, passes to the National Eagle Center, theater tickets, discounts or free food at local restaurants, ferry boat ride, fully stocked and ample rest stops on the ride. The whole thing was well-organized.
You do have the option of checking in on Saturday morning, but we wanted to be ready to go as early as possible which was 7am. By the time we grabbed a pre-ride snack and used the restroom, it was nearly 7:30am when we were finally making our way out of town. And we weren't even a mile down the road before the cloudy skies decided to rain. At first, it was a drizzle that we casually decided "this is ok, we could live with this all day." Oops. Spoke too soon. By Mile 7 the rain was pounding, lightning crashing, and we had to pull to the side of the road under some trees because we couldn't see ahead. Each time one of the huge dump trucks would fly past on the highway, sheets of water would come our way. It was bad enough that we promised to give it a few miles and then pack it in if things didn't change. A little rain is one thing. Terrible, bone-soaking storms are another.
The heavy clouds (and wind!) and chill would hang around all day, but the rain stopped enough that we had only wet roads as we crossed the highway and turned towards Wabasha at about Mile 13. There was a rest area here where we stopped to get food before continuing across the river into Wisconsin where the remainder of our ride would take place. Crossing the Mississippi, you end up on a long stretch of road surrounded by wetlands. The river is extraordinarily high (as you'll see in the photos below) right now, but even so there are a lot of small fishing boats off in little corners. After coming to the first tiny town, the scenery becomes more farmland mixed with bluffs and forest. The terrain is small rollers until coming out of Stockholm where the shuttle ferry departs where there are steeper climbs. But first, you have to go through Pepin where the photos below were taken.
7 miles from Pepin was the log cabin where author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867. Farther down the road is the site of Fort St. Antoine--a French fort from the 17th century.
Below is a hillside cemetery we road by in Stockholm--population 66, though I think the number of bikes leaned on the town sidewalk probably doubled or tripled the size that day. We were trying to ride the 2 miles to a winery while we waited for our boat...but at the end of a long day of riding, we hadn't bargained on the hills leading up the bluff. We ended up turning around and getting coffee instead...though the pie here is apparently to die for. The photos of the beach where the boat landed show what is usually campground and public beach. Currently underwater from spring floods.
The coldest part of our day, by far, was the ride across Lake Pepin on the "Pearl of the Lake." We had almost dried out by then. But without pedaling anymore and without anything to block the wind, short sleeves had us ready for a warm shower. Not to mention rinsing off the road grit covering both us and our bikes. I'm just thankful we didn't need any help along the way. An unbelievable amount of flat tires and mechanical issues...maybe all the gravel? The road surface is fairly good though there are multiple bridges with hard seams. Don't miss the photo from inside the boat about "Pepie." That's the Lake Pepin monster. Be on the lookout for river creatures!
Even with the rain...(because of the rain?)...we had a really enjoyable day of riding. We kept the pace leisurely, stopped at every rest area, and had plenty of good conversations. Other riders--and everyone in the region--is especially nice. I think next year, our plan would be to ride to Stockholm together again where The Mama could have a scheduled boat time and I could continue riding up to Red Wing, across the river, and back down to Lake City for the full route.
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The next morning, we drove to Twin Cities so that I could attend an alumni event at a Twins game for my college. And the kids went with The Mama and Grandma to the Minnesota Children's Museum in St. Paul. (Where, by the way, they had an amazing time!)
The two of us headed to the game, we parked near the airport at a large Park and Ride lot to take light rail downtown. As a regular L rider, I couldn't be more impressed. The trains are clean, quiet, comfortable, and used in an almost unbelievably polite way. Nobody checks tickets. No turnstiles. There are spot-checks where a ticket can be issued--and it does happen. But for the most part, people queue up, board in an orderly fashion, and the trains get you from the suburbs to a baseball game in under 20 minutes.
If you note the last photo below, you get an idea of just how close to the stadium the light rail station is. Calling it a 30 second walk may be silly. You cross the tracks and you're there. The stadium is beautiful even if it looks like most of the other newer ballparks in some way or another. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati...just with an altered outfield seating configuration and more/higher decks of seating to make it a bit taller. Given Chicago baseball stadiums, we like to think we make up for in character we we lack in other areas. In fact, we have a lot to live up to in terms of fan experience. I could have done without the metal detector going in--it added considerably to the process. But it was easy to find our seats once inside.
We were in an event suite for my college, actually. When you entered, there was a private bathroom, kitchen and food service area, indoor seating, then 3 rows of outdoor, normal stadium seats but with tables to set drinks. The food was good, but nothing too impressive. They had cold beer, wine, popcorn, soft drinks waiting for us when we walked in along with scorecards and the college had brought a few freebies. We talked to our hostess for a few minutes before finding some seats. The hot food and desserts were served when the game started...brats, hotdogs, chicken fingers, potato chips, and a tray of brownies and cookies.
A couple of things really stood out about the Twins baseball experience. One was the amount of information available to a fan from the scoreboard. Pitch count. In-game batting summary for each player. Batting history for the inning. Lineup. Pitching stats for each player including anybody in the bullpen. It's an almost overwhelming amount of numbers. Which, I suppose, beats advertising. Though there is plenty of that. But the other thing you notice is how many event suites and party decks. For baseball alone, that's over 80 games a season that these spaces need to be filled. Though with a relatively sunny day, most of the seats in the stadium filled up with a few sections here and there empty. But with hockey, basketball, football, etc. in a fairly small market, it makes you wonder.
By the way, our light rail line passed the hole in the ground that is where the Metrodome used to be. Currently, it's just a basement for what will become the new Vikings domed stadium. Made me wonder as I went by what the marathon has planned since it used to use the Metrodome for toilets, warming and a Start Line for the Twin Cities Marathon. The new stadium will not be finished for several years and the Vikings will be playing in the University of Minnesota stadium for a couple seasons. Apparently, Minneapolis and St. Paul begin being connected by a new light rail line this week, too. Good things happening in Twin Cities...bike paths and bike sharing stations everywhere.
Oh, and that baseball game? I saw my first ever grand slam by the Houston Astros. Actually, there were two in the game by Houston...one after we left to make the score 14-5. It would have been a fairly close ballgame if not for those 8 runs. But the Twins pitching wasn't there. Several great defensive plays we saw though.
But definitely someplace I'd be going back to if I had another opportunity. Very beautiful place to watch a game and a fun experience even if the home team lost.