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The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival returns for its third summer, bringing with it a unique chance to show off all that the city has to offer.
Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

EAU CLAIRE – How nice, I thought: Eau Claire threw a parade for me to celebrate the halfway point of the 2017 Runnin’ and Ridin’ In Wisco Project.

It was Saturday afternoon. I was on Barstow Street in the city of clear water’s bustling downtown, and crowds were lined up on the sidewalks. I was riding my bike, nearing the end of a wearying day of running and cycling as part of the Wisco project, my attempt to run three miles or ride 15 miles in each of the state’s 72 counties.

The temperature was hovering somewhere around 457 degrees, and I was wobbly. I got off my old steel Sirrus bike and hailed a bystander. He did not seem to know anything about the R&R in Wisco Project. Instead he told me the parade was for something called International Fall Festival.   

I later learned from the Downtown Eau Claire website the festival is the largest and oldest celebration of the city’s international culture, and it’s been held for nearly 30 years.

Oh … well, that’s cool, too.

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If you talk to people of the millennial generation, they often will quickly point out just how Eau Claire is hip and cool. Singer/songwriter Justin Vernon, front man for the indie band Bon Iver, is from there. He’s supported his hometown, pumped a lot of millennial cred into the area and started the critically acclaimed Eaux Claires music and arts festival.

I did not see Vernon on my bike ride through the city, although I suspect that the statue of Paul Bunyon in Carson Park is based on the music star. Paul is wearing flannel and sports a beard, just as Vernon does. And as I looked at Paul’s eyes, it seemed as if he was holding back tears, the same look Vernon takes on when he’s sensitively singing in falsetto about a lost love.

I wore the same expression most of the day, as the temperature climbed and the humidity thickened the air. I don’t enjoy physically taxing myself in such rain forest conditions, so I was moving slow. That was fine, because the bike path system around Eau Claire offers…