We're almost even. This has been such a nice, extended autumn that it very nearly makes up for last winter. And last so-called spring. And that beyond-ridiculous dewpoint-palooza in mid-summer.

Not only have the temperatures been above average, but the milder conditions have extended the fall color season mightily. For many of us, that means extra jaunts to Lake Pepin's west side, where they don't call Hwy. 35 the "Great River Road" for nothin'.

Along this Wisconsin byway, every "scenic overlook" and historical marker between Bay City and Alma is worth a stop. For those who like to linger at such vistas, stocking what Yogi Bear would call a pic-a-nic basket with the fabulous provisions at the Nelson Cheese Shop is a swell idea.

Antique shops and Pepin's Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Harbor View Cafe are seriously popular spots for many, although four of us had a very disappointing meal at the latter over Labor Day Weekend.

Amidst all these culinary, cultural and consumer destinations, the one not-to-be-missed stop is the Smiling Pelican bakery in Maiden Rock, Wis. Every morsel of every piece of pastry or pie, cookie or cake that emerges from Sandra Thielman's ovens is a heavenly, sensuous jolt of all that is good in life.

It's almost a blessing that the bakery has no website, lest my keyboard sustain drool damage. But there is a Facebook page (if you dare). Even if there weren't so many other wonders in that region, the Smiling Pelican would be worth the drive -- but only until Dec. 23, when it closes for winter.