Ditching the Drought to Ride the Root

The Root River seen from the bike trail.

The Lanesboro pedestrian/bike bridge over the Root River.

Summer was waning. We had to get out of town, even if it was just for three days. 

With COVID numbers rising again and Catherine still involved with too many things, there weren’t many options. So we decided to ride our electric bikes along the Root River. Our base would be Lanesboro.

We intentionally took the longest route Google maps offered so we could see some countryside and drive a bit slower than racing through Rochester. It was hot and humid. If fact it was so humid, we drove through a warm sprinkle. But the further we got, the greener the vegetation looked.

The southeastern corner of Minnesota is the least affected by the current drought. Lawns and fields of corn and soybeans looked relatively healthy for August, when plants typically begin to dry out. The conditions in that area were still classed  “abnormally dry” which is better than the “moderate drought” we’ve been enduring here. The rains this week might change that.

The drought category names are confusing. I would have thought moderate would be better than abnormal. The worst rating is “exceptional drought” which, taken out of context, would seem to be really good. Read the charts carefully, I guess.

We stopped for lunch at the appropriately named Road Trip Bar & Grill in Dover, a town I don’t think I’ve ever visited. It was the only restaurant open that Tuesday at noon. The waitress was also the cook and was overwhelmed with it all. She had to call someone to come down and help. She apologized for the delay. When we told her where we were headed she asked if she could come along.

We noticed that restaurants and stores in every town on our trip had curtailed their hours. Some were closed on Tuesdays, some on Wednesdays. Some were open only on weekends. Most didn’t open until 11 am. This was especially true in Lanesboro and could be normal for them this time of year but I think COVID still scares people away and businesses can’t find enough staff to stay open more.

Lanesboro is a quaint little town edged by the Root River and a steep bluff. It’s a perfect example of a Driftless Area landscape. The town is clearly focused on tourism. There wasn’t much else we noticed other than a cattle auction business.

We were told by someone working at a soda shop that a large number of homeowners in Lanesboro are summer visitors only. They live in the southern U.S. the rest of the year. This is their cabin “up north.” Apparently, the majority of those living in Lanesboro year-round work elsewhere including Rochester and Winona. We saw no large stores in Lanesboro such as grocery or hardware. 

The place we stayed at was a bit confusing because it was a hotel with multiple buildings not all directly conjoined. The rooms had no TV, which actually provided a welcome break. The internet service was good, though. A bonus was the shed they provided to securely store our bikes.

I suppose I should say something about our rides on the state trail. The first morning we rode to Peterson, where I think you have to be of Norwegian heritage to live there. It was hot again so even the wind we felt riding under the trail’s canopy of tall trees was not refreshing. But we recovered after a lunch of sandwiches at the Driftless Trading Post in Peterson. The sandwiches came with Uffda Chips, a good name for something when the salt on them is the best part. The two-dollar bottles of cold water we bought in Whalen on the way home were worth every penny.

This was Catherine’s first long bike ride and she felt it – 28 miles round trip. I was satisfied just to be back in air conditioning. We had a nice dinner of something served in bowls. Delicious, whatever it was.

We never did eat breakfast even though there was a good option. We were still full from dinner. So, a cup of coffee and we were back on the bikes, this time to Preston. A cold front had gone through and the temperature was in the 50s for awhile – very nice. This route offered more scenery but needs some resurfacing. One thing I really wish for on any bike trail is for a tractor with a sweeper or blower to come through regularly to remove tree trash, a drawback from a canopy. We could see there’s already been a lot of work put toward clearing fallen branches.

In Preston we had a hard time finding a restaurant for lunch. We ended up eating sandwiches again at a brewpub in an old bank building where the vault is a restroom.

We ate outside that night at a restaurant that was once the town hall. I forgot to mention that each night we stopped for ice cream. Somehow, a two-scoop cone became four scoops placed on top of a kid-sized sugar cone. I had to ask for a cup to dump the ice cream into.

Our rides were during the middle of the week so we saw mostly retired people like us. I’d guess half of those riders were on electric bikes, as we were. Even though the trail is mostly flat where we rode, the extra help from electric pedal assist was greatly appreciated.

It was easily the best three-day vacation we’ve had all summer.

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