June 14: Lake City to Afton, Minnesota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 14: Lake City to Afton, Minnesota

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THERE IS A TIME and a place for doing things. Today was a day to pull on wellingtons and a battered brown waterproof and walk across fields with a dog. I'll explain...

We rode a few kilometres along the ubiquitous Route 61 and then left it finally for good. We turned off into the countryside and the sonorously named Zumbro river valley. Rain fell gently without causing offence. The sky was pencil-smudge grey. The air smelled of wet earth and young crops. It was a time to buy a labrador.

"This is a day to tramp through the countryside and poke at hedges with a stick," I told Steph. To which she said: "The kind of day when people look through their windows and don't know what they're missing." What they missed were deer which posed beside the road and then walked on with the grace of a slim-legged woman on heels. The other day four young deer, their coats still dappled, ran beside us, unsure whether they wanted to be with us or escape through gaps in the grass. They were so taken with one idea that they took a long time to settle for the other and we had their company for a delightful 20 or 30 seconds.

It couldn't last, of course, this damp idyll. After an hour we turned on to a busier road to drop into the self-aware town of Red Wing, home of a thousand hanging baskets and also, if you're not of floral leaning, the world's largest boot. By now the rain sprang back from the road and streamed along it angrily.

"This used to be the greatest grain-exporting city in the world," the waitress said in the sort of observation to which waitresses are rarely given. We sipped coffee slowly, to avoid the rain.

"In the world or in the USA?"

The claim seemed improbable given that we'd seen no wheat all day.

"The world, apparently. I didn't know that until my kids came home from history lessons."

The world's prettiest gas station.
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We crossed back into Wisconsin on Red Wing's bridge, then back across the already narrower Mississippi in Prescott. If you're looking for a truly home-cooked meal - "we even leave lumps in the mash because that's the way your mother did it" - we recommend the Boxcar bar and restaurant in the centre of town. It was one of the best meals we have had in America.

"Quite a day for a bike ride," said a lean-faced man at the head of a gaggle of riders in jackets, rain hats and storm pants, stopped at the top of a hill just before town. They were touring Wisconsin, lightly loaded, aiming for La Crosse. Two of the group had become detached on the hill we were about to go down. That's why they'd stopped.

It was knowing there were riders left behind, and because neither the weather nor the traffic was encouraging for crossing the road on a swooping downhill, that we overlooked a third rider until too late. Unlike the others he was fully loaded, with bright red bags. He had a white beard and a jolly smiling face, despite the effort of climbing into the rain. He waved and we waved but we shall never know who he was. Too early to be the first of the Northern Tier riders heading west to east because the Rockies would have been closed by snow. So from where had he come and where was he going?

We'll never know.

Tonight we are camping far from the road in Afton State Park. We recommend it highly.


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