I had to work on Friday, so we weren't able to set off on the 7 hour drive until about 5:45. We made good time, only had one stop (amazing, for us), and arrived in Sparta around 1:15 a.m. Loooong drive and late arrival, but everyone was still up hanging out. We visited for around an hour and then headed to bed. With that late bedtime, I'd have liked to sleep in, but J. was having none of that. He woke up around 7, so we walked Berkeley with Jim and his dog, Daisy. After some breakfast, Jim and I headed off for my scheduled 9-mile run.
Sparta bills itself as "The Bicycling Capital of America", and as such has some great bike trails. One of them, the Elroy-Sparta Trail, was the first "rails to trails" trail in the country. Bike tourism is a big deal there.
<--- This guy, Ben Bikin' is everywhere.
Be advised, cyclists using the trails have to buy trail passes, but they're readily available and very reasonable. Runners, on the other hand, can use the trails for free, so we were in the clear.
We ran on the LaCrosse River Trail. It's a very nice, smooth and well-packed, trail. It's a bit narrower than the Katy Trail, another rails to trails project located in Missouri.
The temperature was wonderful for a run...I think it started out high 50's to low 60's. I actually had to wear a technical tshirt over my typical sleeveless top. There were some shady areas, but much of our run was in the sun. With the weather the way it was, we weren't complaining! Gorgeous, gorgeous morning. I can't tell you how lucky I felt to be outside on that day.
I love Wisconsin, but my phone doesn't so much. I regularly have a lousy signal, so I didn't even try using the Trailguru app on my phone. I just set the stopwatch and let my brother and his superior GPS phone (Droid beats iPhone here, I think) track the miles. I'm not used to having company on my runs, and it was really nice. Jim ran about a step behind me, letting me set the pace. I didn't worry about time or anything. I didn't even have to think about miles since he was tracking them. We just ran and talked, and I felt great. We were able to carry on a conversation the whole time.
At 4.5 miles, he told me it was time to turn around, and I asked if we could keep going to 5. "I thought you only have to run 9 today," he told me. True, but I'd never run 10 before, and I was feeling really strong. So we went on to the 5 mile mark before we turned around. Berkeley was loving life, outside running with all kinds of new smells to smell. Every time a train went by on the nearby tracks, he sped up, and he pulled the leash the whole time we ran. I don't even want to try to guess how long you'd have to run to tire my dog out!
Jim told me when we hit 8 miles. "Only two miles left!" I said. And I really felt that way. I am absolutely amazed by how far I've come since I started C25K in late February. It was all I could do to run a minute without stopping, let alone running 2 more miles after 8! I picked it up just a hair at the end and shouldn't have. I didn't gain much from the extra speed, and I tired out a lot sooner.
When we hit 10 miles, our time was 1:33, or a 9:20 pace! Just a little bit faster, and that sub 2-hour half marathon is within reach! I still have 27 days before the half, and I'm feeling good about finishing. I'm really glad we ran 10. Getting that first double-digit run out of the way feels good, and feeling like I could have run the whole 13.1 felt great.
After grabbing some lunch, we headed to the high school rodeo regionals.
Jeff and J. checking out the action.
Being serious city people, most of us hadn't been to a rodeo before. It was really neat. My mom, in particular, got really into it.
My niece K, Jim, and my mom watching.
My niece A. watched for a while, but she was as interested in walking around as in the rodeo action.
We got to see...
...and bareback riding.
After watching those teenage boys, most of them without helmets, try to hang onto that bucking horse and eventually be thrown off, high school football looks about as dangerous as competitive needlepoint! At least the opponents don't have hooves.
Back at the house, J. was in dog heaven. He loved snuggling up with Jim and K's dog, Daisy.
It's funny...you'd think we didn't have a dog of our own, the way he loves on other dogs. He loves ours, too. I guess it's just the allure of the "new". :)
When he wasn't cuddling up with the dogs or leading his little cousin around like the Pied Piper, he got to go out on the neighbor's 4 wheelers with K. and her boyfriend.
The next morning, breakfast was a team effort. After a big meal of waffles, pancakes, eggs, and bacon, we did some sight-seeing. First, we went to Southern Fried Glass in Sparta. They were working on large platters to be displayed in a local hospital.
Dipping the gather into shards of colored glass
You can't tell it from the picture because the glass is so hot that it just looks red, but the platter is actually blue and green.
We couldn't stay to watch them finish the platter because we had somewhere else to be, but it was really cool to watch them work. J. was fascinated and asked a lot of questions. It was funny how much more interested he was in the glassblowing than in the rodeo. I would have expected the opposite. It was a long, slow process. In fact, while we were leaving, my mom remarked that, after seeing them make the platter, she understood why prices are so high. A lot of work goes into each piece!
Our next stop was the La Crosse riverfront. We see plenty of the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area, but St. Louis could definitely take a page from La Crosse's book and do more to develop its riverfront (in the works, I know).
There was a long park on the other side of the road from this walkway. There were tons of people sitting on benches, riding bikes, and jogging along the riverfront.
Hiawatha statue along the riverfront
We took a boat tour along the Mississippi River on the La Crosse Queen.
The boat ride maybe wouldn't have been my first choice since a) it wasn't cheap ($15/adults, $7.50ish/children) and b) like I said, the Mississippi River is nothing new for us. That said, I really enjoyed it. The tour guide did a nice job, and it was really interesting to hear some of the history of the area. Much of the shoreline is set aside for camping, including some that are only accessible by boat. It was pretty funny to see the amenities some of the people brought in.
Bring your own waterslide. lol
We also passed beneath the La Crosse Rail Bridge, which is still in use by trains. In fact, we actually had to wait for a train to pass before we could go beneath it. Since the smokestacks of the paddlewheeler we were on are too high, the bridge had to swing out of the way so we could pass. Pretty cool.
While on the boat tour, we crossed over the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, chalking up yet another new state for J. and Jeff, (J had also added Iowa on our drive up the western edge of Illinios to Wisconsin) but it didn't feel "official" until he had set foot on land. So, after getting off the boat, we crossed the bridge to the other side for the photo op.
My brother Tom's first time in MN, too.
We had a great late lunch at Buzzard Billy's. They had a great menu with Cajun foods. I could have eaten several meals there to try all of the things that sounded good, but I settled on a pretty boring jerk chicken salad since we were planning a big steak dinner later.
My actual meal was nothing to write home about, but the appetizers were. I ordered "Monster-ella cheese sticks", and they lived up to their billing.
Cheese sticks the size of egg rolls!
My brother ordered fried alligator tail.
Looks like chicken strips...kinda tastes that way, too.
I am not at all an adventurous eater. I've joked more than once that you could Fear Factor me with foods from your basic grocery store. But how do you not try alligator?? Of course, I did. And just like everyone says...it tastes like chicken.
We were going to finish our sightseeing with a visit to an Amish town nearby, but the shopping was (duh) closed on Sundays. Then we were going to visit a museum on the riverfront in La Crosse, but it was already closed. With those two strikes, we headed back home. We hung around the house for a while, then Jeff, Jim, and I went for a long hike in the woods across the street from Jim's house.
When we got back, my mom had a fantastic meal started, and Jim cooked the steaks.
Mmmmm...soooo good! Makes me happy just thinking about it!
We also had German chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream to celebrate Jim's birthday. My mom makes the coconut pecan frosting from scratch, and it is the best frosting ever. Our uncle taught us all long ago that the only way to eat German chocolate cake and ice cream is to mash it all together, so of course we did, while our spouses and my mom were conscientious objectors to what they see as cake abuse. Whatever. They're all part of my dad's family by marriage...they lack the bloodlines to properly appreicate the merits of cake mush. :)
All in all, this was a wonderful trip. I had fun with my brothers, I ran ten miles (!!) and felt great, and we got to just spend time together. It's so rare, especially with my brother Tom and his family, to really get to hang out together because we're all so busy. Not this weekend, though. I got to bond with my little niece, spend time with my grown-up niece who's the closest thing I'll have to a daughter til my boys marry, and just generally have a blast! We'll be back next year.