Last Sunday I had a wedding in Rock Island, IL and I planned on attending the event solo, since my boyfriend’s place of work couldn’t spare him on Monday. When I first Google mapped the driving route from Duluth, MN to Rock Island, IL, my gut wrenched as it stated in green, “7 h 25 min.” I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I love my friend and I would not miss her big day, and then realized I could plan whatever I wanted since I was traveling alone. I could stop as little or as often as I so pleased. Since the fastest route was having me travel mostly through the state of Wisconsin, naturally beer and cheese came to mind. Right off the bat I noticed the blue route line passing through Chippewa Falls. I Googled Leinenkugel’s and I was right. The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company and Leinie Lodge is located in downtown Chippewa Falls, WI. Beer, check.
Now I needed to find some great cheese. I first tried Googling cheese in Wisonsin but that was too vague, so I began zooming into random towns and searching for cheese shops. Each time I Googled a town I was directed to their bland main website that never provided helpful information. Honestly, I gave up searching for a cheese shop along my route and figured I would spot the perfect one while driving. As I drove through Fennimore, WI there it was, a nine foot tall grey mouse nibbling on a monstrous yellow triangle of cheese on the front lawn of the Carr Valley Cheese.
I decided since it was the only cheese shop that stood out like a sore thumb along my route, it had to be the one I stopped at on my way back from the wedding. Cheese, check.
I realized the only other thing to do was to enjoy the drive, which was simple. Wisconsin is known for its scenic drives, especially in autumn, and I can now understand why. I could not have asked for a more crystal clear and sunny day for the exceptionally long drive down to Rock Island, IL. Most of the trees had recently changed to striking shades of bright yellow, rusty orange and deep red. The roads had me winding around large glacial mounds and up and down rolling hills, which made me feel as if I were on a rollercoaster.
Each turn I took there was something new to see. I passed by farmers on tractors plowing dried and golden corn stocks, and several animals including cows, horses and sheep wandering pastures soaking in what’s left of the indian summer. I couldn’t take it anymore and veered off the road to take a spontaneous short break in Boscobel, WI. I pulled into a small parking lot located along the Wisconsin River. I ran up to the edge of the river bank and scanned the view and appreciated having more than a second to experience it. I took some deep breaths, and shook out the kinks in my hips and back. I instantly felt a bit more relaxed before jumping back into the car.
Most of the drive home was sunny, but a dark cloud remained stationary over the horizon directly due north towards my home. Every mile that vanished between the storm cloud and I forced me to grip the steering wheel for dear life as the fierce winds kept trying to push me off the road. I was relieved when my first stop arrived — the cheese shop. I’m a bit of a cheese fanatic, so I was in heaven. They had all kinds of cheddar cheese. Some plain, some mixed with fruit, some with peppers, and all different ages. They even had some shaped as cows, barns, the state of Wisconsin, and Bucky the badger. I, of course being a die-hard Hawkeye fan, steered clear of the Bucky shaped cheese and went for the general cheddar cheese curds, and a block of white cheddar and cranberry, and another of white cheddar and horseradish. I couldn’t wait to get home and devour it all!
About an hour before I reached Chippewa Falls, WI, I made my way into the storm and rain began pouring down. I turned up the windshield wipers as fast as they could whip back and forth, and gripped the wheel even tighter. I relaxed my shoulders in relief once I spotted the Leinie Lodge exit. I followed the signs to a large log cabin built next door to a much larger brewing warehouse. I entered the Leinie Lodge and stood in line (yes it was even busy on a Monday) for my sampler ticket, which included five samples and a souvenir glass for five dollars. The lodge is mostly packed with souvenir gifts available for purchase from t-shirts to grilling equipment. They had it all! After perusing the clothes and convincing myself I didn’t need anything, I enjoyed my last few samples while sitting on a large, plush leather couch in front of a fire place in the center of the lodge. Since it was now cool and rainy outside, it felt good to sit in front of the warm, cozy fire.
Yes, I wish I could have just passed out on the couch at the Leinie Lodge, but managed to haul myself back into my car and make it home to Duluth, MN safe and sound. I dropped my bags at the front door and shuffled to my bed where I passed out instantly. The long trek was exhausting, but well worth the time and energy. I highly recommend planning a mini road trip through Wisconsin before the leaves start falling, and if you love beer and cheese!