Biking and Kayaking in Lanesboro, MN

We had a trip to Decorah, IA in late December of 2016. During that trip, out AirBnB hosts Norma Jean and Daryl invited us to join them for some wine and hors d’oeuvres. They told us their story of moving to Decorah, and how they originally wanted to move to Lanesboro, MN.

So, we kept this town in the back of our minds to possibly visit someday.

Since it was only 35 miles from Decorah, and it had both bike trails and a river running through it, we thought we would check it out on a day during our vacation up there June 29-July 4. Because of weather, we pushed it to Tuesday, July 3, our last full day up there.

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We started our bicycle ride here

Our first stop in Lanesboro was at the Pedal Pushers Cafe for some lunch. They had a great menu and excellent craft beer options. We will most likely return and recommend this place for any meal.

Since we had options of biking from Lanesboro to either Peterson, Preston, or Fountain, we asked our server what he recommended. His first choice was Fountain, but he admitted that was the one in which there was a long climb uphill. The trail was an old railroad route, so we knew the climb would be gradual.

 

Although our server at Pedal Pushers Cafe warned us that Fountain would not have much to offer when we got there, he probably did not realize that the Beaver Bottoms Saloon was brand new and had not even had their grand opening yet. We checked the place out and they had just what the doctor had prescribed us: Bloody Marys, Surly Furious, fried cheese curds, and some french fries.

 

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We barely had to pedal for 4-5 miles going back to Lanesboro from Fountain, and clocked a 22 mile ride for the day. Or so we thought!

Upon our return to Lanesboro, we found ourselves in quite the dilemma. It was not yet 5pm, and we were not hungry for dinner yet. We had brought the kayaks up and they had not been used (let’s be honest here, though, as we were not about to go through the process of taking them off in Decorah just to put them back on when we got back down there).

I came up with this wonderful 5 step plan:

  1. Drive over to Mill Pond (where there was a scenic spillway on the Root River) and drop off our kayaks.
  2. Drive 4-5 miles to Whalen and park near an access to the Root River and Root River State Trail.
  3. Bike along the Root River State Trail back to our kayaks in Lanesboro and lock up the bikes.
  4. Kayak down the Root River to our vehicle in Whalen.  Secure kayaks to vehicle.
  5. Drive back to Lanesboro to retrieve bikes and have dinner.
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The waterfall that flows into Mill Pond.

This was an awesome adventure! We traveled by road, trail, and river between the beautiful river towns of Lanesboro and Whalen, MN. I calculated that we would be finished a little after 8. There were only a few hiccups that made that time to be a little before 9, instead.

First, it took us a little longer to finally commit to the plan than I anticipated. Next, it took us a little while to figure out how to drive to the spillway where we would eventually set in the kayaks. Although we had biked right by it, we had not seen it from the road.  Finally, when we arrived in Whalen, we did not know the location of an access point to the Root River, and so we eventually found someone walking about and asked them. We finally found access down Deep River Road beyond the Cedar Valley Resort.

The Root River access point wasn’t obvious, as it was up the Root River State Trail a little ways and not directly off the parking lot. That took time figuring out as well.

Everything else went wonderfully! Erin would beg to differ about the kayak experience. She thought it was much too fast and rough for her tastes. There were a few points at which we could not avoid water coming into the kayak.

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Erin is checking out the bluffs in this gorgeous Driftless region of the country near sunset.

Anyone else wanting to take this adventure would probably not encounter the faster and rougher Root River. We were encountering it only 3 days after the Decorah Storm of June 30, 2018, and that storm hit Lanesboro even harder.

Since it was right at 9pm when we had everything loaded on our vehicle, we missed dinner at Riverside on the Root, which we will want to return to someday. We found the High Court Pub another block north on Parkway Ave which was still open and serving pub grub which was good enough for us! The High Court Pub has Two Hearted Ale on tap (at that time, and at the time of this post), which is an immediate sign that a place knows what it is doing.

Flatbread pizzas were on the menu and we asked if we should order two of them. The server told us how big they were and we probably would not need two. So, we ordered the Hawaiian. As soon as he placed it on the bar and we got a look, we ordered another immediately. This time, a Chicken Bacon Ranch.

Both of them were delicious, and after finishing both off, we considered a third one for a moment (because we could have easily smashed it), but were able to defeat our gluttony and call it a night. Update: 27 miles of biking, and 4.5 miles of kayaking.

 

 

The Decorah Storm of June 30, 2018

One of the best floats in Iowa is a 3-4 hour float on the Upper Iowa River from Hutchinson Family Farms down to OFF the Driftless Wellness and Adventure Company, LLC in Decorah. It is such a beautiful and peaceful float that includes the gorgeous Malanaphy Springs.  If you are able, you should hike as far up to the source of the springs as you can. It is worth it!

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Enjoying the cold flow of Malanaphy Springs

Some friends joined us for our second and their first trip down the Upper Iowa River.  Little did we all realize, we would be in a whole lot more than we bargained for.

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Mindy and Cory joined us for their first float down the Upper Iowa River

Rain was in the forecast for 4pm with about a 50% chance.  Their were also possible thunderstorms.  So, we decided that we wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time at the springs, use the faster flow of the river, and paddle for a 3 hour float rather than have the usual stops and breaks to make it a 4 hour float.

Around the time we reached the bur oak tree that is in the featured photo of this post, Erin observed the dark, luminous storm approaching.  This provided a spark to light a fire under Erin’s kayak.  She took the lead and paddled ahead encouraging us to keep up.

It was at this point I put my phone into the rear hatch of my kayak with a hope that it would stay dry through the storm.  Thus, there were no pictures of the adventure.  I will try and paint it as best as I can.

After getting a good look at the approaching storm, I began to paddle quickly, keeping Mindy, Cory, and Erin in front of me.  I was thinking about how it was probably going to get to us before we got to our exit point (OFF the Driftless), but it would be close.

Then, I looked over my shoulder again.

I had an, “Oh, Shit!” moment.  Between the first time I looked over my shoulder and the second, my mind came up with an idea of what I would be observing on that second look.  The storm was nowhere near where my mind thought it would be. It was an unthinkable amount closer.  It was the fastest I had ever observed a storm advance, and it was mildly terrifying.

At this time, I didn’t care about our exit point.  Instead, I wondered where the next exit point was, because I didn’t think we would make it there before the storm hit.  Indeed, we did not.

I embraced this fact and calmed myself, disregarding the things that were outside my control and focusing on those that were.  I recall yelling very loudly to everyone that “We’re going to be just fine! Just keep in the center and keep paddling!” I was even able to crack a joke and laugh during the ridiculousness of getting caught in this moment.

Like a smack to the back of the head, the rain and wind hit us!  Trees on both sides of the river seemed to be blowing into the river at the same time. Glancing up, we saw leaves and debris swirling overhead. Adrenaline was fueling our bodies as thoughts began racing through our minds at an incredible rate.

As we paddled furiously through the intensifying madness, car lights became visible on the left and a sand bank became visible on the right. We would later find out that we were just entering Chatahoochie County Park. Erin led the team onto the sandbank on the right.

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Pole Line Rd is on the left bank where cars were parked. We exited on the sand bar on the right. This photo was taken 2 days later.

We landed to find we would have to swim across the river to get to the vehicles that were there to rescue us.  We also landed to find a family of four (with a little boy and girl) in our same predicament.

Rain was coming down hard when we landed the kayaks. I remember moving a lot more slowly than the event called for, and it had a lot to do with the fact that I did not have river shoes with me, which is something I will never forget again.

After exiting the kayak, I remember pulling my kayak up on shore 10-20 feet from the river’s edge.  Others were doing the same. Lee, a proprietor of OFF the Driftless, swam across the river to help us.

The wind picked up so strongly that it lifted a 50+ lb kayak off the ground that slammed into me. Rain was pelting us like a hundred ice picks. When I pushed the kayak to the ground, I noticed our kayaks had blown back into the river and were beginning to float away.  I retrieved mine and Cory retrieved Erin’s.

This time, we pulled them much further up the bank, and put them upside down on the tallest place we could get to.  Lee helped the little boy to safety by floating with him down the river another hundred yards to an easier exit point.

Cory saw the terror on the little girl’s face, and thinking of his own two daughters at home, he took action. Tightly bundling the little girl in a life jacket, he told her that they were going to cross the river and that he was “NOT GOING TO LET GO.”  That’s exactly what he did, too! The river was strong, and even though he started up the sand bar as far as he could, it swept him quite a distance down the opposite embankment.

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We had to swim across this before climbing the embankment on the other side.

During these moments, I remember having to take a piss really badly. Since I was in swimming trunks, and I was about to swim across a river, and it was raining ice picks at the time, a reasonable thing to have done would have been to just go.  Nobody would have noticed or cared! I would find out later that Mindy did just that. Not me, however, as I irrationally made my way into the tall grass.

Having witnessed Cory’s crossing, we knew what we had to do.  Leaving many things behind in the rear hatch of my kayak, I strapped on my life jacket and prepared to swim across. We waded as far as we could and then took a leap to swim the rest of the way.  Somehow, I was able to keep my Birkenstock sandals above water.  Erin and Mindy made it across like champions.  So did the mother and father of that family of four, while the dude kept his cell phone above the water.

We made our way up the opposite side to a place that was easiest to climb the embankment.  Lee herded all of us into his vehicle. Mindy sat up front with Lee’s dog, and Cory, Erin, and I scrunched up in the back.  We felt a little guilty getting his leather interior wet and muddy.

Lee drove us back to our vehicle, where we could calm down and assess our situation.  I was shirt- and phone-less, as both were in the kayak.  So, we did what just about anyone would do in this situation. Mindy lent me her shirt (which was unmistakably a ladies shirt), and we drove up to Pulpit Rock Brewery for some beers to wait out the storm.

Cory bought both of us t-shirts and we enjoyed some Pulpit Rock beers in our Pulpit Rock shirts while telling our adventure story to other patrons.  A little over an hour later, the rain and storm had passed. We drove back to Chatahoochie County Park where Cory and I swam back across to retrieve kayaks. We did the rest of the float, Cory in Erin’s kayak and me in my own.  Lee had already told us he would retrieve all of the rented kayaks.

We finished up our evening having Mabe’s pizza delivered to Toppling Goliath’s new location, where we sat through another storm.

Coming together and experiencing such an intense moment does an amazing thing to the psyche that is hard to explain. Although a frightening experience for all of us, I don’t think there was one of us that would have traded that experience in for another.

We’ll always remember the Decorah Storm of June 30, 2018!

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Erin and I came back 2 days later to reminisce and get some pictures.

A Stuffed Monkey Goes to Norway

To get to Norway, it took flights from Kansas City to Detroit, a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam (with depart time of 4:20pm… heh heh), and a flight from Amsterdam to Bergen.

Bergen welcomed me with a question.

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I certainly hope this is Bergen! Why are you asking?

The question did not make sense at first.  It wasn’t until I was leaving 9 days later that I understood what it was asking.  Bergen? translates to “Why are you leaving? Wouldn’t you rather stay here in Bergen?”

Although I would have a total of 4 days in Bergen, 3 of them would come at the end of the trip. Initially, this was only a quick 1 day stop to get acclimated to the time change before I went on the major hikes of the week.

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A view that was a small walk from my first AirBnB stay.

The next morning after my first night in Bergen was May 17th, which is their national holiday (similar to our July 4th).

Gentlemen were in suits, and ladies were in traditional dresses.  The crowds were hard to deal with as I dragged my luggage to the bus station for my trip to Odda. Everyone was making their way to the city center for parades and celebration from the bus station.

A stuffed monkey going upstream like this was very difficult.

Odda and the Trolltunga

When I first arrived in Odda, I was hypnotized by the beauty.  Since there was a pub and eatery right there at the bus station called the Smeltehuset, I ordered a beer and let myself be mesmerized by my surroundings.

My host at the AirBnB offered to take me for a drive south to see some more of the beauty that Odda had to offer.  On this drive, I was able to take in Buerdalen Valley and Glacier, Eidesfossen, and Låtefossen.  It was a very kind gesture of which I was truly thankful.

 

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The Trolltunga hike was scheduled for the next day.  However, since it was still early (about a month from the regular hiking season), there were no shuttles operating. A taxi would have cost a LOT of money.  Again, my host was gracious enough to carve time out of his day to give me a ride up to the start.

This hike began with nearly 4 km of switchbacks up the mountain.  After another 3 km (about the halfway point), the hike turned to snow that never stopped. As I got closer to the end, passing the 10 km, 11 km, and 12 km marks, it really started to sink in how demanding this hike was.  Every step further was yet another step I would have to make on the way back.  It was very tough.

 

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If you ever plan to do the Trolltunga hike, I would suggest doing it in season, which is June 15 – September 15.

If I ever do the Trolltunga again, I will probably do the following:

  • Backpack a tent and gear in to break up the hike into two parts, allowing a sunset and sunrise photo.
  • Put in extra time hiking beforehand to get those miles up.
  • Bring and inevitably consume some ibuprofen.
  • Borrow or purchase a drone to take some seemingly impossible footage and videos.
  • Make sure the current date is somewhere in the June 15-September 15 range.

This hike will provide anyone who makes it to the end an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Stavanger and Pulpit Rock

Odda was probably my favorite place in Norway that I visited.  The small community with stunning views and hikes all around captured a piece of my soul. I will most definitely return.

The bus ride to Stavanger was full of waterfalls and tunnels.  They were everywhere!  The bus I was on also had to drive onto a ferry at one point, which offered a nice break to let wind blow the stink off of my fur.

In Stavanger, I visited the Norwegian Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum) which was much more informative and cooler than I had expected.  Most of the hiking I did there was urban hiking. I spent the most money on a dinner at Skagen Restaurant where I also enjoyed some high quality Aquavit.

Originally, I planned to hike the Preikestolen on a Monday, thinking that I could avoid the crowds.  On the particular Monday I chose, it was the day after Pentecost, which is referred to as Whit Monday.  This is yet another day that many Norwegians take off, so I met many of them on the trail.

To get there, I rode a ferry from Stavanger to a place called Tau, where I then hopped on a bus that took me to the base of the 4 km trail to Pulpit Rock.  Although without snow, and 10 km shorter than the Trolltunga, I would not call the Pulpit Rock trail easy.  You wouldn’t know it from all the people I saw on the trail.

Once again, the reward was gorgeous.  I took along a coaster from Pulpit Rock Brewery in Decorah, IA.  I sent them some of my snapshots which they used on their Instagram feed here and here.

 

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Back to Bergen

To get back to Bergen, I had to get up before 5 am and walk several kilometers to the bus station that would then take me to the ferry. For the first hour on the ferry, I slept on the floor since I was too cheap to purchase a comfortable seat during my journey.  I wasn’t alone.

Although a very beautiful ride, it wasn’t as awe inspiring as I thought it would be after I woke up and took in the views.

For my 3 remaining nights in Bergen, I really fell in love with the city and did not want to leave.  I walked all over the place, including to the high points of Fløyen and Ulriken (on two separate days).

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Bergen is definitely a place to enjoy for at least 4 days and 3 nights, if not many, many more.  Since I am getting really good at traveling, I was able to pack in quite a bit in the 4 days I was there, but I was definitely thirsty for more and would have enjoyed more time to hike the 13 km trail from Fløyen to Ulriken.  That is on my next to-do list.

 

Norge

Today, my wife and I are traveling to Norway.  Getting to this point has been quite a long process.

It began with my decision to begin learning Norwegian using Duolingo about a year ago. I have been fascinated with the Scandinavian culture for quite a long time.  Decorah, IA, one of Erin and my favorite places to visit, is steeped in Norwegian culture and is home to the Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum.  Since Duolingo offered Norwegian as an option, I dived in.

An eventual trip to Norway was in the back of my mind. After all, if I’m going to spend my time and effort learning the language, I would like my eventual reward. The reward came much sooner than I expected!

Our trip is centered around two hikes: the Trolltunga (featured photo) and Pulpit Rock (below).

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Photo by Samuel Killworth on Unsplash

After we spend Wednesday in Bergen, we will use Thursday to get ourselves inland to a place called Odda, where we will stay two nights at an AirBnB (all of our stays in Norway will be at AirBnB’s).  We will spend all day Thursday hiking to the Trolltunga.  It will take us approximately 6 hours to hike to it, at which point we will probably enjoy the scenery and take pictures for an hour or two, and then a 4 hour hike back.  We will need to pack in our water and food for the day using my trusty backpack. If it isn’t too windy, maybe I can snap a picture like the one featured.

On Saturday, we will spend much of the day traveling to Stavenger, where we will stay three nights. We plan to enjoy the weekend in Stavenger, and then hike Pulpit Rock on Monday so that we can avoid the weekend crowds. Pulpit Rock is much less technical and much more tourist friendly (as you can tell by the picture above).

On Tuesday, we will make our way back to Bergen. Hopefully, this return trip will be by ferry, so that we can enjoy the beautiful fjords of Norway.  We will enjoy three nights in Bergen before we travel home on Friday, May 25.

During our stay in Bergen, I plan to check out the Sentrum Ju Jitsu Klubb and roll with some Norwegians.  By that time, I will be itching to roll!

Upon my return to the states on Friday, May 25th, I will get in late and need a good night’s rest, as I will be riding the Cottonwood 200 over the next three days.  What better way to get acclimated to the time-zone and weather here in Kansas?  Jet lag be damned!

Featured Photo of this post by GEORGE ALEXANDRU NOVAC on Unsplash

The 7th Michigan Beer Tour

Hi. It’s me… Pleepleus.  I went to Michigan over the MLK weekend and wanted to tell you about it.  The featured photo and the slide show that comes later were photos taken by the amazing photographer Rob O’Connell.

Departing from Topeka around 9:30 am, I was able to make it to the SpringHill Suites in Munster, IN by 7:30 pm.  After checking into the hotel, I walked over to 3 Floyds Brewing Company.

Pro Tip: SpringHill Suites is 0.6 miles from 3 Floyds Brewing Company and is the perfect place to stay while visiting overnight. The walk is short, and you don’t have to worry at all about drinking too much at 3 Floyds.

Warning: 3 Floyds is a very Gothic place and has the potential of making some individuals uncomfortable.  It is quite the opposite of a Ma ‘n Pa kind of place.

While at 3 Floyds, I picked up a case of Zombie Dust to bring home and sat on the neck of an upside down bull while others knelt before me and humbly bowed to my superior awesomeness.

Saturday

Before taking off to Ann Arbor, I ate some hotel breakfast to save money and time.  Ann Arbor was only 3.5 hours away.

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Everyone was watching some Michigan Basketball in here. I just came for the beer.

Wolverine State Brewing Company was on the west side of Ann Arbor, so I stopped here first.  When I arrived, I notice that they specialize in lagers.  I tried a smokey dark lager, and a porter brewed with lager yeast, among a few others.  I had a late lunch here that was quite tasty.

Pro Tip: The Residence Inn by Marriott in Ann Arbor is within walking distance of several amazing breweries, brewpubs, and restaurants and is in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor for a pleasant and safe stay.

After unloading my bags at the Residence Inn,  I drove the 14-15 miles to South Lyon to experience both Witch’s Hat and Third Monk Brewery.  Witch’s Hat was on the recommendation of a fellow Greater Topeka Hall of Foamer.  I recommend Night Fury for the dark beer lover and This Guy for the hoppy beer lover.

Third Monk has some work to do, but it will find its place.

Once the car was parked for good back in Ann Arbor, I had some dinner and a few sour beers at Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery.  I had a delicious South Pacific Pizza which had bacon, pineapple, jalapenos, and a chipotle sauce.  Yummy.

The last beer stop was at Ashley’s, an Irish Pub with around 100 beers on draught. I only called it an early evening since there were several beers in my hotel that I could enjoy.

Sunday

On Sunday morning, I needed a Bloody Mary.  I ate braised oxtail hash & eggs with my Bloody Mary and it was just delightful. The coffee was wonderful too.

The drive to Kalamazoo needed to be broken up, of course.  It is natural to stop in Marshall, MI for some beers at Dark Horse Brewery.

I got the coolest table at Dark Horse, which doubled as an aquarium.  I tasted just about everything they had, and brought some Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the Fifth home with me to age and enjoy over the next few years.

In Kalamazoo, the first stop was Boatyard Brewing Company. This is a place I had never been. Boatyard had a line of Gose on tap, so I tried them all, and enjoyed playing cribbage with a few people who couldn’t count their hand very well.

Pro Tip: The Radisson Plaza Hotel is centrally located and a great place to stay within walking distance of places such as Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, and Ole Peninsula Brewing Company.

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Maru Sushi & Grill was next door to Bell’s where I had an amazing dinner of about 79 pieces of sushi (80 will make me throw up).

I didn’t have enough Bell’s, so I went back for some more after sushi.  This is where I closed out the evening before heading back to the hotel.

Monday

Food Dance is a wonderful place for breakfast which is also close to Bell’s and the hotel.

Then there was a long drive back to Topeka.  Many people would be in a hurry to get home by this point. But why?

I had lunch at Flossmore Station Restaurant & Brewery with a beer and a half in Flossmore, IL.

I had dinner at Mark Twain Brewery Company in Hannibal, MO.

Pro Tip: Don’t be in such a rush to get home. Enjoy the novelty that is available. It is worth a few hours less sleep that you can catch up on later.