June 11: Brownsville to Winona, Minnesota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 11: Brownsville to Winona, Minnesota

SCOTT AND SUE left us with three welcome things: a handful of flowers, a bag of home-cooked buns, and some advice. The advice was to skip some climbing, follow the Northern Tier route as far as an interstate and then to pick our way along an old bike trail that avoided an excursion into the hills.

Well, we must have lost our presence of mind. Either Scott said to follow the arterial road to the interstate or we thought he said to follow the route. We followed the route, after hiding out in a cafe for an hour to escape a cloudburst that fell with a liquid explosion.

If you can't see the rain in this picture, empty a glass of water over your head and at least you'll feel it.
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There we bided the time with three men in sleeveless white T-shirts who studied news of tractor sales, and with a self-aware waitress who proved that not all Barbies come out of toy factories.

"You timed that real good," she said as thunder sent hoses of water to the road and flooded it. And unable to think of further observation, she said: "You guys want more coffee?" and went off to fetch it without waiting for an answer.

And then the sun shone. As suddenly as the rain set about refilling the Mississippi, it stopped and gave way to the sun. We followed the route just as we thought Scott had said and didn't even doubt even him or ourselves as the road reared steadily upwards through a sort of Bungalow Heaven on the edges of Brownsville. Only after a grimp that lasted a week and a half did we begin to think this wasn't the way he'd suggested.

It took a hard hill to get there but from then on the road was adorable.
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We could have turned back, of course. But by then we were gamblers who'd lost too much to stop. Either we won or another loss would make no difference.

Well, we did win, but not as we thought. Once up on the plateau we could gaze down on the Mississippi and its Huck Finn islands. We watched a tug push still more barges upstream. The world smiled and we smiled back.

Crowds turned out to salute our passing.
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We rode along the ridge, past horses and isolated houses with unbelievable views. We paused for cold drinks at a village store with a great trade in baler twine and fertilisers and,

"We rode along the ridge, past horses and isolated houses with unbelievable views."
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for all I know, tools to cut pigs' hooves. And then we began the descent. It was like riding Paris-Roubaix downhill.

"They've been promising to repair that for the past ten years," two cyclists said when they paused outside the water mill at Pickwick where we sat by the mill race and ate sandwiches. "Still haven't done. Probably never will. Bad, isn't it?"

Pickwick is named after Charles Dickens novel. The mill was about all there was when the woman who owned it read the book. She enjoyed it so much that

Pickwick mill, named after the Dickens novel.
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she named the mill after it and the rest of the village followed. I love old industrial buildings and the machinery of a time when wheels were turned by belts and cogs. The mill at Pickwick is all the better for there not being a single nail; it is all pegged together and internal supports carry the weight to ground.

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And something I didn't know about watermills: that the sluice is opened only a quarter of an inch to let the water fall on the wheel. That's enough. Any more and the force will tear the wheel from its mount and sent it spinning through the village.

America's finest prepares to throw itself over the bridge and into the river.
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We are staying tonight on a campsite beside the river on the far side of the coal heaps of Winona. I'm being unfair there. There are indeed coal heaps and they're on the river in an industrial and dock area romantically called River View. Winona is far different. The run-in from the south does it no favours but the centre is airy and the atmosphere is set by the university campus. The town has a young feel and an affluent one, American students seemingly differing from their European counterparts in being neither stony-broke nor louche.

The camp site is managed by a Harry Potter-like boy who was born on the river. "Literally on the river," he said, "because I was born on a houseboat just down that way."

Someone is playing country music loud and late into the evening. A slim, dark and spaced-out Canadian girl has walked past us barefoot to exchange a few hey-wows, and a boy of eight has just ridden his bike past us, neither holding the handlebars nor sitting on the saddle. I propose they should all be spanked and sent to bed with no tea.


Would you trust this man as your optician? He passes his sign every day and he still can't see there are two Tuesdays in his week.
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