Help Needed - Transom To Trails

I like water.

Most of my existence has been around bodies of water. I am fortunate to have had that luxury.

Summers of my youth, when not on my mountain bike, were spent swimming, canoeing and boating, under power, sail, or via the paddle. Swimmers itch was a sign of the season. I grew up on swim lessons that lead to the swim team and eventually to fishing, paddling canoes, and then trips across the Boundary Waters, north through the Quetico, and even further north to towns like Atikokan, and Ignace, then back down south to Lake Superior via the Grand Portage. When not paddling, many wonderful days were spent on the family houseboat, a 37' Boatel (made in Minnesota) that could sleep six on weekend trips down to southern Minnesota via the murky Mississippi.

I was led to rowdy rivers in western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota in the spring and fall, eventually winding up with a 600-mile, 20-day whitewater odyssey down the Albany River in Northern Ontario the year I graduated high school. Even during the winter months my activities have led me to skimming over frozen water on various forms of skis, from uphill to downhill, twin tip to pine tar, or smashing that same water with four-inch wide bike tires, or under snowshoes.

After six years of working in bike shops I was getting a bit restless. Then the shop I was at went out of business. Feeling pressure from the proud history of military service in my family, I signed up for the Coast Guard at a recruiters office in a dingy strip mall not far from Salsa HQ. Boot Camp was in Cape May, New Jersey. Ironically, Cape May is a coastal summer resort town. Where I was...was not a vacation. Some days, I was even lucky enough to do pushups in six inches of water in the strong surf of December while being yelled at. After eight weeks of learning the business of seamanship and being a hardy Midwesterner that was of the correct age (read - above 21) I was promptly sent to Cordova, Alaska, where I spent two years on a 225' cutter.

The water I was surrounded with there was on an entirely new level. Cordova was a costal rainforest. If the water was not pouring out of the sky from all angles, it was salty and could be lethal. Memories: Steaming by where the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef when we got underway. 20 foot tides. Steady rain for ten days. Four hours of daylight in the winter. 13 hours in the summer. 15' swells off the port quarter. Seasickness. Pushing a tiny button and using compressed air to start a pair of forty-thousand pound Caterpillar 3608 diesel engines that made the boat shake. Learning how to fight fires on a boat. Staring down off the fantail at the plankton glowing in the propwash at 0415 after getting off midwatch in the engine room. Mustang suits. Otters. Bears. Salmon. Water.

Fast forward a bit...out of the Coast Guard. Worked in more bike shops. Got married. Two cats. Still going canoeing in the BWCA every summer (only missed three summers since 2001) Got a job at Quality Bicycle Products in 2010. Loved it. Then got hired at Salsa. Love that even more. Got SCUBA certified. Dog. House.

Life is busy now, but I have been riding far more than floating. That's going to change soon.

Soon to be home...again...

Good news: there is another boat in my life now. It's a well-kept 28' Carver Mariner fresh from Lake Superior. Two simple Iron Engines, and a 80's interior. My father, brother, and I are taking it down the Mississippi this summer. I don't know how far we can get in a few weeks but that's partt of the fun!

So after all that, where does the bike fit in? Well, I'm bringing a bicycle with as well, and I would like to try and find an off-road trail network, or a gravel loop within riding distance of the river in each state. It's an ambitious plan, but worth a try, right?

So far, I have a ride planned on the Holzinger Trail in in Winona, Minnesota (home of the 2013 US Singlespeed Championships) and I have something scouted out for the “Land Between The Lakes” in Kentucky…and that's it.

So that's where you all come in.

Where should I ride? I'm thinking the trailhead should be within 10 to 15 miles or so of the river...and that's really all the criteria I have!

The boat route is going to consist of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee, so if you know of anything within a ten-mile corridor of the Mississippi, let me know with a comment please! I'm willing to juggle the boat's daily distance a bit to accommodate some awesome singletrack, or to explore some fantastic backroads, so any and all suggestions will be appreciated.

Oh, and thanks in advance for the help!

This post filed under topics: Andy Palmer Explore Travel

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Andy Palmer

Andy Palmer

I enjoy anything with wheels, human powered or not. If I'm not in the BWCA with my wife and dog, you can find me working on my old house with varying degrees of success, or tinkering with my project car in the garage, beer in hand. Feel free to stop by! Random fact: Efred trained me in at my first bike shop job in 1998.


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Luke | May 6th, 2013

Adventure by [floating] Bike.

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Iowagriz | May 6th, 2013 is the site for the Quad Cities MTB group from Iowa.

Scott County Park is a little north (stop at Princeton, IA?); Illiniwek is a new trail on the IA side (stop at Bettendorf area);
Sunderbruch is SW of Davenport, IA;
Sylvan Island is in the river (Moline) and with a recent bridge closure can only be access via boat and water (lucky you)

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erik | May 6th, 2013

I was just going to suggest all of the trails mentioned above in the QC. so i guess thank you Iowagriz

Emily | May 6th, 2013

St. Louis!!! complete trail guide here: but the closest park to the Mississippi is Cliff Cave. it’s not huge but does have some fun sections. If you want to venture upriver a bit, check out the Meramec and visit Chubb or Castlewood. if you post something on forums, there will def be someone to take you around.

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Garrick | May 6th, 2013

I’ll ride with you in Winona I’m 4 blocks from the river.  HPT in LaCross is a good ride its a half day float down river depending on barge traffic.

Steve Fuller | May 7th, 2013

I was going to mention the same trails that IowaGriz did as well.

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lee westendorf | June 8th, 2013

Illiniwik park is in Illinois. Easy access would be from the boat docks in Port Byron. When you get close to the Quad Cities post up on I am sure some guys would meet you and show some of the trails.

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