Monday, July 29, 2002

Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin, according to the various brochures and historical markers, is a "natural," perhaps THE natural, part of the great Mississippi waterway. It was formed by too much silting at the mouth of some tributary, presumably the Pepin River, although I can't find any evidence of it on my map, and it would surely not be shown on George's. I suppose this silting explanation may satisfy your average tourist, but it's not enough for me and "Curious George." Why should this one river silt up and not the hundreds of others we see on the map?

Whatever the root cause of his glacial age phenomenon, it poses somewhat of an inconvenience for George and me in the here and now. As you may have heard, or even seen for yourself, the eastern shore of the "River" is lined with bluffs, maybe as high as 500 feet. Most of the time the River Road runs comfortably between them and the waterway, allowing us to appreciate them at a distance, which is the best way to appreciate bluffs on a bicycle.

Up river of Bay City, before Lake Pepin kicked in, we had glided easily along, looking up at the outcroppings, musing on the mysteries of geologic time and the power of flowing water. We also speculated, in our idle time, on whether or not there are rattlesnakes living up in those rocks. That's what the wife of the nuclear engineer cum amateur environmentalist and ecologist told us at the Methodist ice cream social. Something about "microclimates," she said, but wasn't sure what that meant.

But downriver of Bay City, the terrain took a turn for the worse. The "Bay City Hill," which, as you may remember, was requiring heavy sag wagon support among the MS riders, was just the first of a number of inconveniences caused by Lake Pepin, despite its beauty from afar. Having apparently clogged itself with its own silt, it became bloated to the point where it overflowed its bed, flooding the plain to the foot of the bluffs, forcing us, several millenia later, to pedal over them.

George and I are on one right now, having stopped at a covered "scenic overlook" for a brief respite from the drizzle that has kept us moisturized all morning. I peel a banana and have a few Fig Newtons while putting my clothes and sleeping bag in a plastic bag. George pulls out his Ziploc bag of peanuts, which never seems to diminish, from his handlebar bag. While we wait for the rain to slacken, George tells me one of his many travel stories I came to enjoy on this trip. Perhaps Lake Pepin reminds him of some high Andean lake, Titicaca maybe, or it could be the rain. At any rate, he tells me about the time he was camping at the 13,000 foot level on the Altiplano of Bolivia after biking 129 miles that day. A steady night-long drizzle threatened to inundate his tent, as it wasn't soaking into the hard ground. It was barely above freezing, and he feared hypothermia. He spent all night sitting in a corner of his tent on slightly higher ground than the rest, bailing water out of his tent with his socks. He tells me this in a soft, understated voice, like he is talking about going to the store for a loaf of bread.

The rain has lessened so we cinch up and head down from the bluff toward the town of Pepin, ten miles away.


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