Day 51: Across the Mississippi River — Zumbro Falls, MN to Perrot State Park, Trempeleau, WI – June 28

Daily miles – 80. Total miles – 3067.
Today did not have an auspicious start. First, I discovered that the stove fuel I dug out of Dad’s garage in St. Peter was probably not only old but an off brand. Often this would not matter, but it gummed up my stove last night and rendered it useless this morning…After 45 minutes of messing with it – cleaning the fuel line and the jet, not to mention taking it all apart 5 times – I finally switched to the kerosene jet assuming the fuel was heavier and dirtier than white gas. This worked in the end, and we had coffee and oatmeal eventually. Then I topped off the tire pressure and we took off with plenty of time to meet up with Noel in Wabasha. We weren’t more then 200 meters from the campground when we got a pinch flat.

OK – this tire business needs its own paragraph…First, Chandra found the snakebite and expertly patched it as usual. We noticed, on close inspection that the 700×28 rear tire was wearing thin, so we changed it out for our remaining 700×25 spare. Then I put the tube in the tire, pumped it up very carefully, and, since we were again running a 25 instead of a 28 in the rear, I confirmed the pressure with the gage. 119 psi. Sweet. Then pshhhhhhh. Valve blew. Kicking myself, I replaced the nicely patched tube with one of our three remaining fresh tubes and blew that one too. Uber-gumby? Defective tube? Bad Karma? Hard saying, but I installed our penultimate tube and we rode off. More about the riding later, but after 12 miles or so, we blew out again. Another valve blown. Strange, but we figured we must have hit a bridge joint pretty hard. So, I replaced it with a fresh tube and just as it got to pressure, the valve blew (@#&#$^!!!!!!!!!!). Unreal. And this time I had not used the gage, and been super careful with the pump. I refocused and grabbed the single remaining fresh tube. I entered a pie-baking, tire changing, life centering trance and focused only on adding air to the tire and not letting the valve get jostled in the process. That valve did not move at all. It was beautiful. I had such a proud moment until the final few pump stroked and it took it’s turn at the valve-blow mike in a carnival dunk tank event. At this moment, sadly, we were left only with the slowly-leaking Conti tube the other Mike (the angel near Devil’s Tower) had given us. We remained puzzled though, that we could really blow so many valves! Four in a day, and one without the pump being involved. This last detail,along with my trance-like perfection in pumping on the last one made me realize that there had to be something in the rim that was causing these blowouts. Before mounting th Conti, I looked closer and, sure enough, the rim tape was worn off around the valve hole on the rim leaving an exposed sharp metal edge for the tubes to cut on. I had inspectedthis before, but it has looked about the same throughout this trip. It all became so clear and obvious now that it was known, but took a sledgehammer to thead (not to mention 20 tubes or so) to make it clear that this was the culprit. I had gotten so focused on the gage and pumping technique that the obvious became esoteric. But here it is! So, I used electrical tape (incidently, almost the last thing that we packed from the 460 – I grabbed it on the way out th door thelast time) to soften the edge. So far so good. Later in the day we found rim tape at a shop and will replace the old tape next time we flat out. Hopefully after we reach Madison.

I am torn. Mostly, I am pleased and relieved that we found the problem that has plagued us for weeks. I’m also glad the tube-eating nonsense will not remain a mystery after our journey. But I can’t help feeling like I should have somehow figured it out earlier. But the hardest learned lessons settle deepest within us, and are never forgotten. As I write this in camp tonight, I am so over it and just happy we solved a major problem.

Backing up in time a little, with the leaking tube in place we rode into Wabasha finding Noel waiting alonside the rode in his car. He led us to the Eagle’s Nest – a local bicycle hangout with great coffee and food. The cafe proprieter and his friends have a bus they use to bring a possee to RAGBRAI. It’s all tricked out with a shower and a deck on top. Seats 28. We may have to join them sometime.

So during the heat of noon to 3, we sat sipping coffee and talking story with Noel and Jim (The Eagle’s Nest Proprieter) and enjoyed the company of people who really understand what we are doing and why. We also talked about this crazy English three-speed tour around Lake Peppin that Noel helps organize. They dress up in knickers and ties andstop for tea and scones and beer ontheir 3 speeds on this epic, two-day, 40 mile ride. We are totally there next year. Their website is 3speedtour.com. Check it out – rad. Brady is chopping up two of these old bikes to make a tandem for him and Lucia to ride next year. While we were sitting and chatting, we discovered the only bike shop in town was closed, but a friend of Noel’s (Dave – the City Administrator) said he could hook us up with tubes. He returned minutes later with four (whatever gave him the idea we would need so many !?!?). So we changed out one last tube, inpected the pimpalicious electrical tape job which looked fine, and despite wanting to stay on siesta and continue excellent conversation and catching upwith Noel and the Wabasha peeps, we downed some killer shortbread and hit the road. We have not terribly often been at the total mercy of strangers, but ever time we have, and countless times when we needed nothing at all, people have opened their hearts and helped us immeasurably. I’m sure some people we’ve met we will see again, many others we will not, and others we never even heard their names, but people’s kindness, curiosity, and advise have made this journey possible. What a great gift to recieve from so many people.

We immediately crossed the bridge over the MIssissipi River and made our final state-line crossing into Wisconsin. The steep hills of the Zumbro River Valey this morning gave way to wetlands along the river, and gently rolling and flat riding along the mighty Mississippi on the right, and beautiful wooded sandstone bluffs to the left. Somewhere befoe the bridge, we crossed 3,000 miles ridden! And in this scenic terrain prepared for Chandra’s grand homecoming into Madison, and both of our new beginnings here together. Looking on the bluffs and river, I felt like I needed to inspect it all and absorb it, because as this journey ends, this is home now.

We enjoyed a descent tailwind push to the south for aout 50 miles and stopped in Trempeleau tofind a grocery store and thence to the State Park to cook dinner. There was no store, so we ate in a restaurant and enjoyed a walnut burger and spaghetti with walnut balls over New Glarus Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel on tap. Wisconsin. Can I get an amen?

The park is gorgeous – right by the river, and we are fat, sassy, and very tired. Tomorrow we need to mak up for the miles we lost messing with tubes and enjoying the company of Noel and co. In Wabasha. So to sleep…

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