A couple weeks back, a few of the Salsa Crew headed south east of Northfield for a bit of social gravel exploration. I planned this ride to offer a mix of rolling gravel, Rice County vistas, and planned stops at places that I love. These roads are my home turf. I’ve ridden them for years on everything from mountain bikes to courier bar equipped-townies. The idyllic, rolling scenery and the quiet feeling of this area is a haven to escape to just outside of town. The crew was on a mix of Warbirds and Fargos.
As often as not wind plays a big part in gravel rides across the country. This ride was no exception. We rolled out of town after a great Tavern breakfast into a stiff southeast wind. Crops are just starting to be planted in most of the fields. Windbreaks this time of the year are a bit hard to come by.
Roads in this part of the state don’t have much elevation gain, but they are rarely flat. Small gravel roads crossing valleys or laid along ridgelines are the norm. My Warbird has been set up for long rides with Almanzo coming up. It flat out rips, especially on the stellar road conditions we’ve had lately.
The first stop on our tour was Valley Grove Church. Set in a gorgeous little valley, this is bordered by restored oak prairie on one side, and Big Woods State Park on the other. The church dates to the late 1800’s, with gorgeous oak trees and grounds. Complete with good water and a convenient bathroom, it’s one of my all time favorite spots to feature on a ride.
The Nerstrand meat market is near legend in this area, and was our next stop. Featuring locally raised animals and 120 years of family-run experience, this it is a must see place if you’ve never been. I find it exceedingly difficult to pass here without stopping. It never disappoints!
There’s a whole lot of history, pride and goodness packed into this cooler. Ring bologna, dried beef, coarse ground beef hot dogs, turkey jerky, and double smoked pork chops are some of my favorites.
Rolling out of town, we headed towards Caron Park for a picnic of salty, smoked goodness.
Caron Park is a small county park down the road from Big Woods State Park. Only about 60 aches total, its parking area and picnic structure belies the waterfalls and gorgeous valleys just inside the wood’s edge. A short hike down into the draw leads you to this. It’s a killer spot for a lunch stop. You can see the exposed rocks roots littering the shot. This area was blown out last year following about thirteen inches of rain in just a few hours. The obvious power that the flash flood had is impressive.
Lunch included dried beef, beef sticks of three varieties, and three different kinds of jerky. Health food it isn’t, but it was delicious!
A short ways up and over the hill leads you to this glacial erratic rock. Over ten feet tall and split clean down the middle it’s a strange sight in the middle of the woods. It’s certainly worth the hike to check it out! Green is just now starting to emerge in the woods. Small plants and wildflowers were blooming across the valley.
Leaving Caron Park we headed for Farmer’s Trail. This is a personal favorite road of mine, and one that has been featured on this blog before. Gently descending into a valley, this nearly tree covered road is awesome to ride through in all seasons. Three are only six or so houses on this road section. It’s almost always quiet back here.
With the weather starting to turn, we made the right-hand turn to head back into town. The wind had picked up considerably at this point.
Our day ended much as it began, with a good meal and lots of laughter. It was a great day on the bike, one I hope to repeat soon. You probably have a ride like this where you live too. If you haven’t found it yet, I encourage you to get out there and discover it. You’ll be glad you did.
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My bike is my ticket to freedom. I grew up exploring my world by bike. Since then I’ve had the chance to ride all across the country. I’ve met amazing people everywhere I’ve been. These people keep my wanderlust and sense of adventure alive.