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Sights and Insights

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Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 12:00 am

Seeking a spot to vacation with long, paved bike trails, Spark and I went to Southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin last week. Surprises were in store for us when we stayed five nights in the hamlet of Harmony, Minn., population 1,000-something.

Thanks to the Internet, we found a charming place there, the Asahi Loft, a serene hideaway over innkeeper Cindy and Doug’s Ofstedal’s garage. Though their home was a flight of steps and a few yards across the driveway, we had complete privacy, and a frig stocked with breakfast items and other treats.

Initially I had concern there might not be enough to do in the area. But Harmony, though tiny, proved to be an ideal spot to access the River Root Trail, 60-plus miles of paved trails that run along the pristine Root River, where bluffs and caves abound, kayaks, canoes and tubes ply the cold waters, and fishermen cast their lines in hopes of snagging rainbow and brown trout.

Along the trail you can also access Preston, the trout capital, and Lanesboro, with its abundant bed and breakfasts, a town chosen by Midwest Living as one of the prettiest in the Midwest.

Nearby is Decorah, Iowa, population 8,100, just 20 minutes away — a virtual metropolis compared to Harmony. There’s another paved bike trail in Decorah, countryside bliss, 11 miles bordered by fields of corn and wildflowers, and steep, unending switchbacks that tested our riding chops. The town also boosts a cinema and an ice cream parlor that serves a Wisconsin ice cream we couldn’t get enough of.

Such a Pleasant Surprise

Only 400 miles from Washington, we discovered in Harmony a Midwest mecca of rural beauty where farm equipment and Amish buggies share two-lane roads with tourists and “howdy-there” folks going about their day-to-day lives.

With plenty of check-in tips from Cindy, and our tummies full of her fresh baked bread with rhubarb preserves, we set off on our first bike ride, accessible from the Loft, a mere mile away. Hours later we drug back into town. We hadn’t realized the trail was down hill from Harmony to Lanesboro. Which meant it was all uphill coming back.

Without really realizing it, we rode 47 miles. It took two days for us to recover — I doubt this ever would have happened had we not run into a man who was riding 100 miles, a regular activity for him. If he could do that, surely we could knock off 47, we thought.

That was the reason I slept through “Jersey Boys,” the movie we saw later that night at the Gem Theater in downtown Harmony. The theater is quite something, a real relic from the past, only open on the weekends for one showing of a featured film. The Saturday evening we were there, so was everyone else in town, and then some.

Prior to showtime, Cindy had told us if we went to the movies to be sure and take along one of the large, plastic bowls in the kitchen cabinet.

“The popcorn is free if you take your own container,” she said.

It cost us $8 to go to the movies; that included the popcorn and a large soda. What a deal.

If we’d wanted more action on our Minnesota getaway we could have gotten it — Harmony is an hour from Rochester and an hour from La Crosse, Wis. Neither metropolis beckoned. We found peace and a relaxed pace in Harmony, a spot that wrote the book on friendliness and community pride.

Spark and I left the area for some more biking in Madison, vowing to return again soon to Harmony. Free popcorn alone would be enough to bring us back.