DAY 28 – MONDAY, AUGUST 5

WINONA TO TREMPEALEAU

We overnighted on the second floor of an old Winona, Minnesota home converted into an Inn. You can either rent out the bottom floor in full or the top floor, or some combination of the two. Steve and Nan Bachler own and run the Inn, and close to 7 in the morning, Nan was calling up to us that coffee and donuts were ready on the porch. We had met them both in passing a few times the day before, but never had a chance to really sit down for conversation, so we decided a breakfast interview would suit.

John and Charlotte, another couple visiting Winona for the Shakespeare Festival amongst other activities, were keeping the first floor of the house and joined us out on the porch. For this first hour or two of our day we learned how each of these people had a love of Winona, for its arts, its people, its sense of community, and especially its unique place along the Mississippi. The story of Nan and Steve, a love story that took some 40 years to materialize but has them known the town over, is one that deserves further telling, so look for more on that in days and weeks to come. 

We had to get moving, so Tom and I headed to Levee Park where we ended our journey the day before. He set out on foot back over the bridge into Wisconsin and I met up with him some few miles in on the other side to pick up on bike. We had a scheduled rendezvous with Bud and Dianna at the Trempealeau Mountain before heading the last few miles into town to settle in at their house. Bud explained that the “mountain” is one of only two or three rock based land formations on the river—the other being Rock Island in the Quad Cities. It was a sacred site for early native people and has since been pillaged and now taken under government protection. 

After this historic entry into town, Bud and Dianna took us to their home also overlooking the river in order to get settled in. We dumped our things and walked with these two active octogenarians the several blocks and up a hill into downtown Trempealeau in order to meet with several other local residents at the Driftless Bike N’ Bean coffee shop and bike repair owned by Brad Stanislowski. Brad has helped organize the gathering and thoughtfully pulled together a cross-section from the community, including George, former barge worker and commercial fisherman, Bud and Dianna of course, Ian Kearns, a young outdoorsman and local architect, as well as Shirley, who worked at the coffee shop and is raising two little ones. All these folks had been born and raised in Trempealeau, some drifted away for a time, but all found their way back. And as Shirley said, there’s just a magic to the place, which is also perhaps helped by its proximity to the larger cities of Winona and LaCrosse. 

After the group conversation, Bud and Dianna took us on an extended hike up the bluff. We saw the ancient mounds constructed there and felt the landscape deep in our bodies. We walked back home along the riverfront, not just watching but feeling the trains go by—their vibrations a part of the air around Trempealeau. Our afternoon and evening was spent in good conversation over drinks and food—small mouth bass and walleye, homemade bread, all the good warm food, generosity and welcome company one could want. We know this is a conversation that will continue.

Wisconsin State Hwy 35S on the Great River Road