Last weekend the VoiceOfReason and I loaded up the bikes and headed to the village of Downsville, WI. Since the MN State Fair, the harbinger of fall here in the State Where Nothing is Allowed, begins in a couple days, we figured we better sneak in the long discussed bike weekend before we ran out of weekends. Our base of operations was The Creamery, an upscale little inn in Downsville, which features an excellent restaurant, and is the perfect place to push in the clutch and coast for a bit. Its also 2 blocks off the bike trail system so a person can throw the keys on the counter and visit the local spots via two wheels.
The trail is one of the old rail grade trails, a concept pioneered by Wisconsin with the Elroy-Sparta trail and several others that have been added over the years. It's densely packed crushed limestone and follows the Red Cedar River and runs into the Chippewa River trail on the far side of a long railroad bridge over the Chippewa. A left turn takes the cyclist to Meridean, Careyville, and Eau Claire, about 25 miles to the northeast. The former two villages were the sites of two of the last operating car ferries in the state and as kids we crossed them frequently on weekend trips with our grandparents. A right takes bikers to Durand, a town that's just discovering that cyclists will spend a few bucks in town and actually enjoy spending time along the river. We chose 'the road less traveled' and headed for Durand. Even though the plan was to escape kayaking for the weekend, we sat and watched a flotilla of kayaks and canoes pass under the bridge. The Chippewa is very wide at that point and the recent rains insured that there is plenty of water in the river. The view from the bridge reminded the VOR of the Missouri near Bismarck, a river she spent considerable time on as well. Like most Wisconsin towns, Durand had an impressive number of bars and grills to chose from. There was a lot of construction at these bars, mainly the feverish building of smoking additions for the nicotine addicts that the statwide July smoking ban displaced, but some was deck expansion on the rivers. As recently as 40 years ago these rivers were open sewers that the buildings all faced away from, but as the rivers get cleaner and towns and businesses slowly figured out that its pretty enjoyable sitting by the river. We enjoyed a couple of fine products of the Leinenkugels company on the deck and I had some broasted chicken, a child nutritionists nightmare according to the VOR. On the way back to Downsville we spied some wild hops growing along the trail. This was a great segue into the evenings cross training event, an activity that careful scouting the weekend before had uncovered.
During last weekends drive back from the beer fest we decided that we should probably have a beer somewhere in the Eau Claire/Menomonie area. One of the boys remembered a brewpub in Menomonie that brewed German lagers and we quickly tracked it down. It turns out that the annual St. Gambrinus Day celebration was last Saturday at Das Bierhaus, complete with fun, games, prizes, and a costume judging. Since we had our kayak changing robes in the back of the car and plenty of wild hops for an excellent crown, we decided to go for it. We mingled with kings, swordsmen, damsels, and serving wenches and had a damn fine time. The Gambrinator Blonde Doppelbock was brewed for the event and was excellent, although not a session beer by any means. The VOR even won the bronze in the 'how long can you hold two half liters of beer' competition.
The weekend was a good break but now its back to kayaking with a weekend in the Apostles and the annual fall trip, this year back up to the Sauna Islands. It was lots of fun to kick back with some biking however, and these trails whetted our appetites for some of the other trails in the state. The scenery is great, the trails well maintained, and there are plenty of nice distractions along the way. Who knows, a person might even run into a religious celebration, maybe even the patron saint of brewing, along the way?