Biking to Oregon: Day 2 - Joining the Northern Tier Route

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The next morning I packed up everything and went back to the Hitchin’ Post for breakfast and to fill my water bottles. I hopped back on to the Elroy-Sparta trail, which has 3 tunnels that are open to the public. I went through one the previous day, but the longest one (.75 miles) came early into my ride today.

Breakfast at the Hitchin' Post.

When the tunnel was constructed using explosives in the 1800s, they accidentally blew through a spring. Cold spring water still rains from the ceiling of the tunnel, and it felt refreshing after sleeping in hot and humid weather all night and ending the day without a shower.

Tunnel on the Elroy-Sparta trail.

The Elroy-Sparta trail connected to the La Crosse River State Trail, another rail-trail that goes to the Mississippi River. In La Crosse, I found a sandwich shop online and ordered their largest size of sandwich and ate it at an adjacent park.

Halfway through the sandwich, I realized I had ordered too much, trying to be careful to not order too little food. With this being only the second day of the trip, it was understandable that I hadn’t figured out food yet. Looking back at the experience, I think my giant french toast, eggs, and hashbrown breakfast was enough to get me through the day, with snacks along the way.

I left La Crosse and joined the Great River State Trail and paralleled the Mississippi River. This was also where I joined the Northern Tier route. The rail-trails were such a treat. With the rail-trails being free of cars, I could focus more on my surroundings and listening to whatever podcast or audiobook that I happened to be playing. The Great River State Trail went on for 24 miles and eventually ended, putting me on to the highway.

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Before joining the highway, I called an RV park in Nelson, Wisconsin, which would put me a little bit over my 100 mile goal for the day. I reserved a campsite and was looking forward to getting to take a shower.

Although the highway had a shoulder, the traffic was a bit on the heavy side. Tourist traffic along the Mississippi River on a Sunday afternoon makes for a busy highway with cars and groups of motorcycles.

As I was standing up and pedaling to give my butt a break, a group of motorcycles passed me with one getting really close and pretending to slap my ass. I’ve come to realize that people who do stuff like that just want a reaction, either from their peers or from me. My solution is to not give them what they want, so I just ignore them and keep riding.

When I made it to Nelson, the restaurants I was planning to eat at were closed. I usually make sure to check Google Maps, but with these being small town restaurants, their online presence is usually outdated. The only restaurant in town was just a bar which served frozen pizzas. I was thinking that I should’ve stopped for dinner in one of the previous towns, but I wasn’t going to turn around. The closest town was Wabasha, Minnesota, which was 4 miles over the Mississippi River.

I decided to add the 8 mile round trip to my day and ate dinner at a restaurant, sitting outside watching boats go by on the river. After dinner, I biked back over the river and set up camp at the RV park in Nelson. I was the only person tent camping there, with everyone else being in trailers or motor-homes.

View of a Mississippi River bluff from my tent.

I remember hearing a group of people in the distance having a lively conversation, with this woman having a silence-piercing laugh that happened every 10 seconds it seemed like. I had no idea what she was laughing about, but it made me happy just hearing someone that can find someone so funny, so often. It was the type of laugh that could make you picture someone missing some teeth.

After I took a shower and got in my sleeping bag, I realized that the train that I had been hearing all day along the river doesn’t stop at night. The train goes full-speed along the river and sounds its horn at every town. Even though the train was going so fast, it seemed to sneak up on me every time as I heard its horn first and then the sound of the train cars on the rails.

I’ve heard that it takes humans an average of 7 minutes to fall asleep, and I would guess that’s how often the train passed by. I eventually fell asleep, as if my body accepted its new reality of coexisting with trains.