Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

On today’s episode of Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin, my friend Rahul joined me in an adventure to see four new counties plus a whole new state.

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

File:WI Trempealeau.png

Trempealeau is in red, with Winona right beside it.

I rate today’s expedition somewhere between a success and a failure. In terms of success, we hiked a mountain in beautiful weather, made it to a brand new state for both of us, and had tons of fun. In terms of failure, however, no geocaches were found and the drive back was probably one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen.

Rahul and I have wanted to do an out-of-Madison trip for awhile now, and since there’s “no day but today,” I pooh-poohed the monsoon-like weather forecast and decided that I wanted to see the Mississippi River and finally add Minnesota to the list of states I’ve visited; unless we’re talking about age, 40 is a better number than 39. Wisconsin has oodles of state parks but today I chose to start in Perrot State Park in Trempealeau.

We got a pretty good morning start, leaving Rahul’s place at about 8:30 AM. Some friends of his were going to join us but they all bailed, which turned out to be nice because it was a great time for us two to get closer. Leaving Madison, we had gorgeous weather, and I thought that maybe, maybe the weather forecasters had made a huge mistake. We took a Dunkin’ Donuts break in Wisconsin Dells, and from there, drove through two counties I’d never seen before: Monroe County and Trempealeau County before arriving at our destination at 12 noon.

Trempealeau, Wisconsin, is a tiny, tiny town of about 1600 people and three decent-sized buildings. The park is right on the Mississippi; driving up to it, we raced the train running along the road. I saw a sign that read “fee area,” so we parked near a small restaurant and walked into the park, stopping to read about Perrot’s Post. We met some bikers who showed us a map and several different hikes we could do, each about 45 minutes. They recommended Brady’s Bluff, but we were right at the trailhead for the Perrot Ridge Trail so we started on that one.

The trail was sunny, muggy, and buggy. Early on, we found a fallen tree suspended beside the trail, and Rahul went and walked across it. I was not so courageous, since my shoes were older with less traction. I got up on the log, which was covered in moss, and let go for barely a second before I came crashing down. Fortunately, I have good balance so I landed on my feet. I tried it one more time but ended up just doing the sloth thing and hanging off the log.

The rest of the hike was pretty steep uphill, but the reward was plentiful. At the top, we were greeted with a view of the Mississippi floodplain on one side, and on the other, the river and the town of Winona, Minnesota in the distance. I hadn’t had any cell phone service since Wisconsin Dells, but atop the mountain I got enough bars to FaceTime my dad in Ocean City. On the way down, we carved our names into some sandstone. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail, it was starting to get ominously cloudy, so I left it up to Rahul to decide whether we were done after a little under two hours of hiking, or if we wanted to do another trail. He voted for another trail, but we didn’t make it very far before it started pouring. Fortunately, we were at a juncture where the trail went back down to the road, and we missed most of the storm due to being in the dense, aromatic forest. It was a long walk back to the car though, and we were just about out of luck, resigned ourselves to getting soaked when I flagged down a truck. A friendly local couple named Rob and Robin, who had seen us arrive at the park earlier in the day, gave us a much needed and appreciated lift back to the car.

We still had plenty of daylight left (well, more like day-mist-fog-cloud cover), so I decided that since we were so close to Minnesota that we could see it from the mountaintop, we should drive over the border just to say we were there.

So we did, and now I officially have been to 40 states. Wahoo!

Over the border, the first town we ended up in was Winona. Winona is a pretty little town, there was not that much there, but it was a Sunday afternoon and kind of gross outside so maybe people were just chilling elsewhere. I looked for a geocache or two but couldn’t find any (boo 😦 ) but we got to enjoy lunch at a lovely little cafe, the kind you expect to find in a small town, probably one of the few local survivors of the Great Burger King/McDonald’s/Wendy’s/KFC purge of the 1990s. We happened to walk in at the start of a violin/ukulele concert by some local kids and teenagers, so we enjoyed that while we ate. The kids were really good on the violins, and this one girl did an awesome rendition of “So Happy Together” by the Turtles on ukulele which was really something else. I recorded most of it and sent it to my mom, who loved it. After we finished lunch, we were briefly caught in the rain, but it was an otherwise uneventful ride back to Madison.

Oh, and next time I go to Minnesota, I will be highly disappointed if there are no ukulele players heralding my arrival.

“welcome, to minnesota…we’re not north dakota…”


The First Time I Saved Someone’s Life

I was hoping to save some of my best stories for later in the month, and this is one of them, but I figured that it’s a pretty important one, so I’d better have a written record of it.

Once upon a time, it was 2004 and I was in Alaska. More specifically, on a cruise through Alaska with my dad, sister, and aunt, but in Alaskan waters just the same. It was the third day of the trip, and since my body clock was completely messed up with the lack of the sun setting, I was awake at 8 AM. I wanted to get out of the room for some reason (probably because my dad was snoring) so I decided to grab my sketch pad and head to one of my favorite parts of the ship, the top deck, where there was a bar called Biergarten and a small seating area. I liked this area because it was generally quiet, and it had the best view.

After a short conversation with the bartender, a Polish woman named Marta, I settled on a chair set a little ways apart from the bar area. I was drawing the mountains of the Inside Passage in pencil when I heard some coughing erupt behind me. I ignored it and went on drawing. Then I heard it again. Then I heard it a third time, along with some gurgling/vomiting sounds and someone saying, “Are you okay?”

I turned around and what I saw made me drop my sketchbook on the deck, inadvertently drawing a dark pencil line right across the middle of the picture. An elderly man in a fishing helmet was sitting at the bar, convulsing and drooling everywhere. He was rocking back and forth, flailing, spilling his drink, and generally acting very strangely. His friend was sitting on his right, and I got on the stool on his left. I learned that the guy’s name was Frank, from his friend, so I held his left hand and shoulder to stop him from shaking and kept repeating “Frank, Frank, can you hear me? Frank, can you hear me?” The milky look in his eyes was one of pure terror. Yeah, he didn’t know who I was, but his eyes were stretched wide open and he couldn’t look at me straight. He responded briefly to the sound of his name before going back into the fit. While the bar waitress went to call for help, I pushed the ashtray (still with his smoldering cigarette in it) across the bar, away from him, and his and his friend’s glasses into the sink, so Frank wouldn’t hit his head on them. His friend told me that he’d known Frank for years and nothing like this had ever happened before. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

After what seemed like ages (but was probably all of five minutes) a guy in a white Texas A&M Medical School sweatshirt showed up. He said he was a med student and that we needed to lift him off the stool and lay him down flat, but on his side so he wouldn’t choke on his own bile and vomit. Frank was a big guy; it took me, the friend, Texas A&M, and another guy to pick him up and lay him on the deck. I had his upper body in my hands and his head in my lap. By now, people were starting to emerge onto the decks and watch what was going on. I was wondering when the paramedics would arrive. A few minutes later, they came in with a stretcher, and I helped lift him up and place him on the stretcher, and then they carried him away and the crowd dispersed. I was by the pool when my dad and aunt showed up, and I told them what happened and what I did. They were proud of me and said I did the right thing. I felt like a hero.

Later that day, I found out that the ship’s infirmary was on the same floor as our staterooms, so I went to the infirmary to see how Frank was doing. When the paramedics were at the scene, they asked me and the three others for our names and passenger ID numbers for some reason, so when I told them my name at the counter and asked how he was doing, the ship’s doctor came out, along with another lady, who I learned was his wife, Kate. The doctor thanked me for my help earlier and told me that Frank had had a seizure, but that he was going to be okay. Kate also thanked me, and told me the two of them were from California and on the cruise with some friend. She also said that they had tender tickets and they were planning on going into Juneau at around 9 or 10 to do some sightseeing and probably getting drinks at the Red Dog Saloon. The doctor then told me that he was glad that I had been there and glad that it happened on the ship rather than in Juneau, which is when I learned that the ship’s paramedics were not allowed to leave the ship at any port, and if the incident would have happened at the Red Dog Saloon or anywhere else in Juneau, there was a good chance that Frank could have ended up in the local hospital, missing the ship, or he could have even died right there in Juneau, Alaska. Both, horrible ways to spend your vacation.

It was one of those moments in life where even though I didn’t do too much, I was proud of what I did, During my bouts of depression and self-pity later in life, my dad would always remind me that without me, “Frank would have died in Alaska,” which usually made me feel better about myself.

It also made for a killer college admissions essay, what with the whole “rescue on the high seas” angle.