On a sunny spring day in 1987 eleven young men met at Rochester’s Silver Lake Fire station to ride with the wind for the eighth Occasional Tri-county Tailwind Tour (TTT). You can read much more about the first tour in my 2015 post, Tri-county Tailwind Tour.
After each ride, I tried to capture the moment by writing about the day. The summary for this ride is longer than most, and it captures much of the excitement and pure joy of enjoying a spring day, with no goals beyond having fun and looking forward to beer and pizza after a successful ride.
One thing made my memories of the day special. A T-shirt. Several years after the ride, Judy and I happened through Urne and stopped to revive some memories at the bar where we ended the ride. We bought a left-over souvenir from their school reunion. I wore the shirt proudly. It is no longer part of my primary wardrobe, but gets used for yard work.
Eighth Occasional Tri-County Tailwind Tour May 9, 1987
Destination: Urne, Wisconsin
Counties: Olmsted, Wabasha, Buffalo (Wisconsin)
Bikers: Don Fearn, Dan Johnson, Guy Havelick, Brian Good, Mike Dvorsky, Bill Fiandt, Lyle Grosbach, Jerry Berding, Tom Walker, Lonnie Olson-Williams, Jeff ?
The weather had not cooperated with the TTT for a couple of years. We remembered the spring ride of 1987, not for rain, but for sunny and warm weather … and this time it felt almost too good. Clear and 65 degree weather greeted us at the fire station at seven AM. Everybody showed up in plenty of time, even the two new guys. They were real biker types, complete with equipment. Jeff had panniers, Lonnie with helmet, high-class biking shorts and all. But they enjoyed riding with all of us pikers. No problem.
The wind had blown all night, so we were ready for a brisk breeze. It let up a little right at seven, but was obviously from the southwest. The veterans were afraid of going to Red Wing again. At least it would be better than Owatonna, a destination the year before; in the rain, in the cold, and the shortest ride ever, not even attaining the required three counties. The westerly component of the wind was stronger this time so we chose to head out Viola road (County 2). It was a big hill to start the day. The weather and wind were perfect, but there was a hint of rain visible in the distance.
Several riders counted rain drops on their jackets a few miles later as we turned north on County 11. There was a quarter-mile of road construction before it turned nice again. We debated which town to hit for breakfast, and the wind helped us decide against going to either Elgin or Plainview. Somewhere along here was one of the “major” mechanical breakdowns of the trip. Don’s chain fell off. Later in the day Mike’s fell off, too.
We continued on highway 11 to highway 23 and in to Millville for breakfast. We’d been there years ago, and it was clear that nobody had cleaned the men’s room while we were gone. We all had a filling breakfast of home cooked goodies, from French Toast to eggs and sausage. They had a good deal on homemade cookies so Bill picked up a dozen of them. Jerry added air to his tires and we were off on the same road that the Zumbro Zig Zag followed … a huge hill! We got to our second county just before turning on to state highway 60.
During the debate as to whether to follow 60 or not, Don broke out the traditional molasses (Lassie) cookies for everybody. He somehow had managed to stuff some four dozen of the things into his handlebar pack. Delicious. We followed highway 60 towards Wabasha. There was little traffic on the highway that particular day. But what was lacking in the number of cars was the number of hills. Big ones. Ones that I fondly remember from past Zig Zag days. In one of the miscellaneous gravel pits along the way, some kids had apparently been very artistic and created sand replicas of large Aztec carvings.
The down sides of those hills got us going over 40 miles per hour, according to Bill’s new bike computer. The hills got our heart rates way up (uphill or down). In addition to hills, there were beehive colonies. Jeff discovered that those bees were not impotent. He got stung on one of those tough hills. Reality hit Jerry on the last of the big uphills before coming into Wabasha … he had to get off his bike and walk.
At the base of the last big downhill was the Wabasha armory. The little boy in all the TTT riders showed up here. The Army had been kind enough to put a used tank out for display and we climbed all over it. Since Andy wasn’t along this time, Guy had his camera and has photographic proof of the boyish nature hiding inside those old bodies (some over 40, but who’s counting?). (I wish I could find that picture.) Then we biked in to downtown Wabasha for lunch. We decided on the historic waterfront Anderson House. Excellent soup, strawberry pie, sandwiches, and (premonition) a beer for Jerry.
After lunch we discovered that the temperature had taken a turn for the worse, but we did not realize that the heat would get us down. Bill had all kinds of gooey things in his pack, including sun block lotion. Wisely, everybody used it. The temp was only 90 degrees according to the downtown bank, and we headed for Wisconsin.
The first hurdle was the old Wabasha bridge. What a monster. Narrow, rough, and high. High enough to expose Don’s fear of heights. He asked several times just how high the bridge really was. The most harrowing part of the trip was this short stretch through the Mississippi backwaters into Nelson. Harrowing because of the high traffic count and lack of good shoulders. We almost lost somebody when they didn’t yield quickly enough to an oncoming car.
In Nelson we talked at length about which way the wind was really blowing and where would be a good place to end the tour. Some wanted to go north to Pepin, while others suggested south to Alma. The wind won out (along with the heavy traffic on highway 35 south) and we headed up 35 looking for the county road “D” turn. That road took an idyllic turn to Wisconsin farm country. And lots of hills. We really debated about turning back or continuing. Cool heads did not prevail (it was too hot already) and we kept on plugging along.
When we hit the really big hills, Jerry and Don decided to turn back to Nelson (it was downhill, but up wind, most of the way). Jerry was having trouble with his knee. Ah, yes, Bill turned back with them. Bill had caught up with Guy, who was slugging it out on some worthless damn hill, to get word ahead that some were calling it quits. They ended up at the Top Hat in downtown Nelson. Later, they reported that it was a smoky bar.
Don had completed all of seven of the earlier Tailwind Tours. But he did not finish this tour. That means that nobody completed every tailwind tour.
The remaining eight continued on in the heat, draining water bottles, climbing hills. The most daunting hill was the one we could see through the trees in the distance, it looked like a real killer. Most of us walked part way up the bugger. I won’t say who the tough, macho, manly types were that managed to make it all the way to the top without stopping. You can guess.
That hill did offer us a chance to come down the other side gently for a long haul, probably two miles without pedaling at all. Over the last (we thought) hill we could see the small town church steeple of Urne (we thought). It turned out to be a farm, a church, and a church hall with a 50th anniversary celebration going on. They gave us directions to Urne … “just over that hill” … so we headed for town and a beer. The anniversary people had promised that there was a good bar in Urne. It wasn’t just one hill, there were two of them. The hills wouldn’t have been bad had they been ten miles out of Rochester in 65 degree weather, but we’d ridden well over 50 miles and the temperature was about 90.
We found Bushy’s bar at about three o’clock. A total of 60 miles. Dan called home to let Carol know where we were. We were all bushed and just kind of sat around drinking beer. It was a long wait till Judy, Nan, and Brenda showed up with the cars. The proprietor had some basset hound pups to look at, and there were antiques for sale in the back room so we had plenty to do. But sitting and drinking beer was fine.
The drive home up and down those hills was plenty nice. Havelick’s car developed a slight radiator hose leak, but we didn’t know that until we got home. Most riders and their families joined us at the Johnson’s house for the traditional delivered pizza (from Little Caesar’s this time) and even more beer. Carol served lots of other treats, too. A beautiful evening to end a good day.