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Day 19: La Crosse, WI to Richland Center, WI

This is probably going to be one of my shorter entries. I woke up at 6 feeling totally wiped. I reset my alarm for 6:15 and was still totally wiped. It probably had something to do with really pushing myself yesterday.

Anyway, Taylor made a nice omelette for breakfast, and I stuck around a bit to schmooze with him and his wife. Basically, I was looking for any way possible to delay hitting the road because I just wasn’t feeling it today. When I did finally get out the door, it was already 8, making this my latest start for any biking day apart from the day in Bismarck when I was getting interviewed.

Since Taylor and his wife live on the southeast side of La Crosse, I was already much of the way out of town, so I only had to go a few blocks to catch a bike path to take me the rest of the way out of town.

Basically the entire day involved following US-14 or bike paths that roughly parallel it. About 8 miles into my day I hit the first of several major hills. The locals call this one “Ten Mile Hill” because it’s ten miles out of downtown La Crosse. I call it the most painful thing I’ve had to climb since Montana. It was only about 500 feet of elevation gain, but that gain came in a little over a mile. My best guess is that the bulk of the hill was a 7% grade. On the bright side, what goes up must come down, so after spending a couple of miles on a plateau I got to make a nice descent.

At about 15 miles I rolled into the town of Coon Valley, still feeling drained. Between the hour and the fact that it was Monday, not much was open so I just forced myself onward. This meant climbing a second big hill. At least this hill had a very gradual ascent to cover the first 100 feet, so I only had to do 400 vertical feet of steep climbing.

At about 25 miles I came to the town of Westby, which is so proud of its Scandinavian heritage that many signs around town say “Vellkommen”. Stopped at a diner that makes its own pies, and it was nearly 11 by the time I left because I just didn’t want to be on the road.

Now I should mention something here: About 25 miles southwest of Madison is the town of New Glarus, which is home to New Glarus Brewing, considered by many to be not only the best brewery in Wisconsin but one of the best in the country. Unlike, say, Treehouse, they actually distribute quite heavily around the state. You can find their flagship brews in almost any bar or supermarket. Of course the one-offs are somewhat harder to come by, so it’s still worth visiting the brewery to see if they have any exclusive beers there. I had done the math and realized it would add an extra 30 miles or so to my routing to visit them. My original plan had been to put down nearly 90 miles today so I’d be in position to decide tomorrow whether or not to make that detour. Given how I was feeling in Westby and the time of day though, I made the decision that I was not up for a 90-mile ride and was going to have to scrap a visit to New Glarus.

So feeling a little more relaxed, I hopped over to Westby Creamery. For those of you keeping track at home, this now makes two creameries, one winery, and zero breweries in Wisconsin. I got to taste some freshly made cheese curds there, and since they also carried a lot of local non-dairy products I picked up some honey straws and maple sugar candies to keep around for quick energy. The maple sugar candies were labeled organic, but I’m not aware of anyone who sprays pesticide on maple trees to begin with.

Heading out of Westby there was a bike path paralleling US-14, which took me the 7 miles to Viroqua (accent on the second syllable). Viroqua seems to be a bit of a hippie town, perhaps because of the town’s legacy as the birthplace of the Midwestern women’s rights movement. (Recall that the American women’s rights movement started in Upstate New York, so it took a while to spread.) They’ve erected a nice monument in town to honor this history.

Here July 4, 1856, Lucy Stone “Morning Star of the Woman’s Rights movement” delivered the first woman’s rights address and anti-slavery speech ever given by a woman in the great northwest. The platform broke down. Rising unhurt she cried, “So will this nation fall unless slavery is abolished.”
The world for women has been revolutionized largely thru the efforts of Lucy Stone and her co-workers.
Alice Stone Blackwell.

A block away is a co-op supermarket. I did say it was a hippie town! Stopping there gave me an opportunity not only to grab a sandwich for lunch, but also to grab a couple of beers from New Glarus for drinking in my hotel tonight.

Coming out of Viroqua I got to both descend the other side of the hill that I had climbed to get to Westby and enjoy a terrific tailwind for the next 10 miles. They basically flew by. Then the road turned and I had more of a crosswind for the rest of the ride. A couple of miles after the turn, I had my third major climb of the day. This time the 500-foot ascent was spread out over two or three miles, so I never had anything that required massive downshifting. At the top I realized I was 48 miles in and had only taken one photo so far for the day, so I decided to grab a shot of Wisconsin’s unusual lettered highway system.

As far as I know, Wisconsin and Missouri are the only states with lettered highways. If they run out of letters, they use double letters. I actually passed Route ZZ today. So when someone has to give directions around here, do they really say “turn right on Route X”?

While I was taking that photo, I suddenly realized that the odd clopping sound I was hearing was an Amish man driving a horse and buggy behind me. Unfortunately by the time I realized this was probably photo-worthy, he had already turned a corner. So instead I just took pictures of the farmland.

After a big descent from the third hill, I had my final hill of the day several miles later. This one was only 250 feet, but it was quite steep and there was a headwind at this point, so it wasn’t exactly easy.

Shortly after the descent from that hill, 64 miles into today’s ride, I finally made it to my first brewery in Wisconsin! Mel’s Micro opened 4 years ago in the spot of an old bar that had been there since the 70s. They only brew four beers, and the beers were kind of average. (At least I wasn’t expecting much.) The dry stout was actually pretty good, but the amber ale had a weird funkiness to it.

Leaving Mel’s, I was only 4 miles from my hotel, so I headed over there. At the edge of Richland Center, I passed this Purple Heart memorial at the local American Legion.

Once in Richland Center, I was able to get on a bike path that ran along some restored prairie. This bridge looked pretty cool, but I wasn’t sure if it could handle a heavy bike, so I settled for a photo.

And that’s all for today! Told you it was short. Oh, one more thing⁠— when I got to my hotel room, I chilled the two bottles of New Glarus that I’d bought. Besides their four flagship brews (farmhouse, pilsner, hefeweizen, and pale ale), the co-op in Viroqua also had a couple of their specialty beers Flanders red and “Raspberry Tart” raspberry lambic so those were the two I bought. The Flanders red was up there with some of the best Flanders reds I’ve had. (It helps that I like the style, so most breweries who go to the trouble of making it to begin with are likely to impress me.) As for the Raspberry Tart, just wow. You have to be ok with strong flavors, because this one has raspberries on the nose with a strong front flavor of raspberries, followed by a raspberry finish. Fortunately, I like raspberries. And there’s enough tartness from the fermentation that the beer isn’t cloyingly sweet or anything. My sister might even like it!

Okay. That’s really it now. Onward to Madison tomorrow!

Total distance: 68.3 miles
Average speed: 14.7 mph

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