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Ride on two wheels in the springtime warmth of southwestern Wisconsin and the memories of January's drifts, February's icicles, and the raw breath of March simply melt away. Green before you, green behind, all tied up with the shimmering blue ribbon called the Mississippi River.
Practice saying this: "Ahhhhh!"
As far as tonics go, a spring bike trip along the Great River Road is right up there with Auntie Fiona's special gooseberry-and-horehound pick-me-up (the one Uncle Fergus swears by, and sometimes at, depending on how much he's had.) The distance of your tour is of no consequence. You could do a short ride of a few miles or take on the full 89-mile route. Any ground you cover will offer restorative benefits: striking bluff scenery, majestic river views, historic architecture, quiet life in sleepy river towns, and the occasional surprise visited only upon those who travel with an open mind and a flexible schedule.
Generally, the Great River Road is relatively flat and easy to cycle. Still, there are portions of the route that will test your muscles and mettle. Just remember: After every hill, there's a downhill.
Pick up the 44-mile northern portion of the bike tour at the trailhead in Hager City. As you head south you'll skirt the calm shores of Lake Pepin. (Be prepared for the two-and-a-half mile long hill between Maiden Rock and Stockholm.) Work your way toward Alma, home to Lock and Dam No. 4 in the center of town, and Buena Vista Park, which offers outstanding views from a bluff 500 feet above the river.
The 45-mile southern portion of the cycle tour begins in Alma. The route will take you past Cochrane and the Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden – scores of life-sized figures fashioned from rocks and concrete by retired farmer and artist Herman Rusch. (The garden is open year-'round; a museum on the site is open only on Sunday afternoons from May to September.)
If your leg muscles are as solid as some of the nearby bluffs, you'll want to take on the Mississippi Bluffs loop, with trailheads at Merrick State Park and Fountain City. For your effort you'll be rewarded with valley views of incomparable beauty. (There's a long loop of 24 miles and a shorter segment of 10.5 miles.) Fountain City's most unique attraction is the Rock in the House – a 55-ton bluff boulder that found its way into the owner's living room. The Monarch Tavern, a 100-year-old-plus establishment featuring a carved wooden mural of life on the Mississippi, is a good place to refuel for the final leg of the tour to Perrot State Park and Trempealeau.
You'll need a good map to plan your journey. Call the Wisconsin Division of Tourism at 1-800-432-8747 and ask for a copy of the Wisconsin Biking Guide, which contains full-color maps of the north and south tours. The maps are marked with icons indicating what services are available to cyclists along the road – repair shops, grocers, camping and lodging, water, toilets and more.
For information on specific cities or areas along the Great River Road, call the following during business hours: Pepin Economic Development Committee, (715) 442-2441/2461; Pierce County Welcome & Heritage Center, 1-800-4-PIERCE; Trempealeau Chamber of Commerce at (608) 534-6780; Alma City Clerk's Office, (608) 685-3330; Merrick State Park, (608) 687-4936; Perrot State Park, (608) 534-6409.