After spending the last fifteen years on active duty with the Army Reserves it was time to retire back in Minnesota. One thing about Minnesotans, we are fanatical about our summer hobbies because our warm seasons are so short. Some of us ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and some swing a club at a little white ball but those are stories for a different kind of magazine.
We hit the road, fortified with coffee and leathers on, as soon as the ice is off the lakes and hopefully after least one good thunderstorm to wash away the sand and salt.
My loving bride, Antje, and I took advantage of a warm May Sunday to roll down the Mississippi River just south of our alma mater in Winona, Minnesota, to tour the Apple Blossom trail. The Apple Blossom trail starts where U.S. Highway 61 meets County Road 3 in Winona County and ascends through the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota to meet up with County Highway 12.
Riding our way from the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis we tooled along country roads passed farms fields and those “blink and you miss’em” small Midwestern towns. Minnesota Highway 19 is just one such road, a peaceful two-lane road that begs to be ridden on two wheels. We passed through Northfield, a quiet little town with a “Mayberry-like” charm and home to two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton College.
After passing through Cannon Falls, Highway19 meets up with US Highway 61, the Minnesota portion of the Great River Road, just north of Red Wing, Minnesota.US Highway 61, like its sister road on the other side Wisconsin 35, shows off its spectacular views of the Mississippi river and bluffs and offers the traveler small town attractions like antiquing, ice cream, apples and wineries. Down US Highway 61, south of Red Wing, we passed through Frontenac, home of the Whistle Stop Café, featured in Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt.
As we neared Winona, we stopped for gas and a quick drink of water. We had just gotten a text that our friends from Chicago, Kathy and John, had just crossed the river into Minnesota to stay a few days in Winona before coming to visit us. We quickly invited them to join us in Winona, to view the apple blossoms on the trail. They eagerly agreed and offered to trail us taking photos and video.
Continuing down 61 we passed the Harley Davidson Shop of Winona, could only wave as it was closed and they were no doubt out enjoying the fabulous Minnesota Spring weather as we were.
It’s easy to miss the northern part of the Apple Blossom Trail if you don’t keep a sharp eye. You’re only clue is the Winona County Road 3 sign; if you see signs for Dakota you’ve gone too far. Country 3 climbs from river level to the scenic bluffs that rise above the Mississippi. At Highway 12 we saw our goal, the sign pointing us south down the trail.
Once on Highway 12 we cross under Interstate 90 with its cages and semis, grateful for the refreshing Zen-like moments we were enjoying smelling apples blossoms and leaning into the curves of the road.The road’s seductive curves, with the fragrant aromas of the apple trees and beautiful bluff-top vistas of the valleys below invites a stop to take it all in from one of several outlooks.
We were sorry to see the Trail’s end after 17 miles of farms, orchards, and breathtaking views of the river below as we arrived in a final river town, La Crescent, MN. We thanked our videographer/photographer with some darn fine pizza at Corky’s Pizza.
After dinner we said our goodbyes and started back up the trail, since you can never get enough of scenery like this. This time we hoped off on Interstate 90, cause now it was time to eat some miles and get home to let the dog out.
We’ll be back this fall when the blossoms have turned to apples. By then it will be time for the fall colors, Apple fritters, caramel apples, and maybe some hard cider.
All in good time, there’s a whole lotta summer riding ahead first.