Meeting up with Jonny Hunter in Wisconsin was one of the most anticipated parts of our trip. The week leading up to the COG tournament in Milwaukee is what we based our entire schedule around. Jonny was going to meet us two days out of his home in the capital city of Madison, and take us on a riding tour of some of the local farms.

Jonny Hunter and his brother Ben are menaces in two places: polo courts and kitchens. Ben can fly and score goals while doing it. Jonny’s got some kind of sixth sense. Both of them run The Underground Food Collective. While Quinn, Andy and I were already biking, they came to New York to cook a few more spectacular dinners. Back in the fall of 2008, I attended their five-course (or more?) Pre-Industrial Pig dinner. It was a brilliantly assembled, attended, and delicious event. Not only was Johnny going to show us how to get into our second big city this week, he was going to make sure we ate well along the way.

Before we met him though, we had to get there. Minneapolis is a big city. And there’s another city, St. Paul, right next to it. We foolishly didn’t ask for another guide out of the city, and foolishly followed the vague directions of the founder of Black Label at the Hard Times Cafe. I’m sure that the Gateway Trail he recommended we take is a spectacular ride, but you kinda gotta know how to get there in the first place. We didn’t. And instead of being out of the urban area in the morning, we didn’t make it to Wisconsin until the early afternoon. There was still 170 miles between us and Johnny Hunter. The good news was that it was along some of the most gorgeous parts of the country, following the Mississippi River. The bad news was that there was a 15-20mph headwind. The other bad news was of course that there was still 170 miles to go.

The Mississippi lopes and roams, backed up into lakes miles wide at times, its enormity fed by rivers already massive – tributaries that snake hundreds of miles away up the mountains this side of the Continental Divide. Route 35 hugs its banks for most of it’s length in Wisconsin. Motorcyclists roam up and down in packs, dropping off in groups to explore the roads up to more scenic vistas along the tree lined bluffs.

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After 97 miles, stormclouds starting to threaten us and we paused in the town of Nelson, with hopes of finding a fine place to pitch a tent. The railroad that had paralleled us and the river went through the town like it had for all of the small, lovely towns along route 35. The locals recommended we camp in the town of Alma, 9 miles away, but after our obvious conviction towards not riding anymore, formed a consensus that the city park behind Beth’s Diner was probably a fine place to spend the night. We moved some picnic tables from under an overhang, pitched our tent, stashed our bikes away from any rain, and walked into Beth’s Diner for a dinner that could not possibly satisfy our appetites.

Last night's campsite

Last night's campsite

In true twoarmparty fashion, as soon as the doors closed behind us, the skies opened up and drenched the town.

The rain let up quickly, and we devoured our meals with similar haste. Sleep set in easily on our wind battered and grumpy bodies. Hours later, because commerce never stops, our dreams were shaken by the rumble of approaching locomotives. The movement of miles of freight was announced by a blast of the engine’s massive whistle, rendering slumber impossible, but waking us to a resounding echo from the mountains behind us. It was immensely disrupting, but strangely beautiful.

The next day’s trip was much further than the 97 miles we had just tacked on. It was supposedly less hilly (until the very end of our ride), and if the weather wasn’t lying to us, we were going to have some tailwinds. Both assumptions ended up being true. We even found a shortcut that Jonny hadn’t pointed out. Wisconsin, like Minnesota, has done a fantastic job turning old railroad tracks into bike trails. We followed this flat, straight trail for 12 miles into La Crosse. Quinn took a video, thankfully, to give you an idea of what it’s like. It might make you queasy, but…train bridges! Woods! Mississippi marshland! No cars whatsoever! Possibility of alligators on the trail! It was pretty.

We followed route 35 until Ferryville, where we were to pick up route C, headed away from the river and uphill all the way for the next 15 miles. This was at mile 107. We knew dinner was waiting for us with Johnny in Star Valley, but since the burgers at the biker joint were only $4, it only made sense to inhale one before climbing.

Maybe it’s because we psyched ourselves out, or maybe it’s because we’re just getting stronger, but that last 15 mile climb was no sweat. Maybe those burgers had something extra special in them that made them taste so great. Whichever way, we beat Jonny to his friend Josh’s house. Josh, a farmer, rolled out, and let us make ourselves comfortable in his house while he went out to plant some seeds. By the time he got back, Jonny was still on his way. So Josh took us on a tour of the farm. Quinn is the only one of us who has any knowledge of the fields at all, but we still learned a ton of stuff that city kids don’t know just from listening to him for 45 minutes. And we saw a bald eagle. Check.

A Bald Eagle. These things are beautiful. It opened it's beak and went "America!"

A Bald Eagle. These things are beautiful. It opened it's beak and went "America!"

What had taken Jonny so long is that he was trying to get his bike together. He has the luxury of owning one of the last bikes every produced by Johnny Cycles. All of his components though, were hastily borrowed from friends. While he cooked dinner, Josh’s brother Noah gave us a tour of the farm equipment. He had no idea how to give a tour, but it was OK, because we had no idea what we were looking at. He ended up giving us a spectacular explanation of some of the 100+ pieces of equipment they use to manage their farm.

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By the time we finished eating, it was nearly 11, and we’d added 220 miles to our total. It was time to pass out. The next morning, just like any other day, we got ready to ride.

Josh, Jonny, QAK

Josh, Johnny, QAK

The whole point of the previous photo was to have us in front of a tractor, but it turned out that you couldn't see the tractor at all. This one is from the 40's.

The whole point of the previous photo was to have us in front of a tractor, but it turned out that you couldn't see the tractor at all. This one is from the 40's.