Any Road Tour: Day 23 – Bridges and bonking

It was tough to leave the incredible hospitality of Kathy, Russ, Krista, and their owner Fluffy the wonder cat.

Clad in my WABA socks, I rolled out at 7:30 headed north through Saint Paul.

Near Como Park I picked up a side trail that had a well-divided path for pedestrians and bicycles. Maybe The Wharf can adopt signs like this.

This lead to a rail trail that extended well over ten miles. The weather could not have been better so riding in a tunnel of leant shade was the bomb.

I stopped at a repair station to give my tires a shot of air and clean and lube my chain. The Mule appreciated the TLC.

We cut over to another trail they took us directly to the Lower St Croix River in Stillwater Minnesota. Stillwater was a lovely town. It had a house straight out of the Addam’s family.

It would have been my favorite but for this one, whose owner had terrific taste in baseball teams.

I would have seen those houses at all but for the fact that the bridge across the river is out. It is being converted to a bicycle and pedestrian bridge.

The new bridge is beautiful and has an awesome side path. Unfortunately the people at Minnesota and Wisconsin DOT didn’t bother to put up any signs telling you how to get to it. I spent about 45 minutes going up and down hills until I found the secret entrance.

Finding my way on the Wisconsin side of the river wasn’t any easier as the local roads near the bridge are all being reconfigured. Another half hour wasted wandering about.

I finally got on the road to Osceola. It was 14 miles away and breakfast had been burned by my engine. Did I mention there were hills? Well, let’s just say that my granny gear got more use today than it has in a week.

I arrived in Osceola and took about an hour break for lunch (at 2:30) and to buy food for dinner. The food store gave me a senior discount and I didn’t even buy Polident.

I re-crossed the river to Minnesota where I was greeted by more hills. Lunch had not kicked in and I was bonking pretty bad.

After ten miles I made the turn for the campground. After 1 1/2 miles there was no campground. The Google informed me I should not have turned. After retracing my steps and obeying my Google Maps master, I found the RV park. They charged me $35 to camp. As I started rolling my bike away from the camp office, the manager called out to me. He goofed. The campsite was only $10 for bicyclists.

It’s time for dinner. PB and J on flour tortillas, apples, and pretzels. Basically my food choices came down to what was easy to transport.

Total miles today: 80.5

Total tour miles: 1,649.5

Any Road Tour: Day 20 – Trails and tailwinds to the banks of the Mississippi River

I’m sitting in my tent listening to waves wash up on the little beach just below my tent site on the Mississippi River in Lake City. Finally! Hawks and eagles are flying around searching for dinner.

There is a near zero chance of rain tonight so no rain fly for me. I expect I’ll be drenched by 2 am.

Last night I got the senior’s special at the family restaurant next to the hotel: spaghetti with alleged vegetables on the side.

The Settle Inn turned out to be a very nice hotel. The complimentary breakfast had proper china and silverware. I had my usual double dose of food.

Off and running under overcast skies with cool temperatures, I found the Great River Trail and followed it north next to an active rail line along the river. It was mostly unpaved but it had withstood the recent rains rather well. (The surface was almost as good as the GAP trail in Pennsylvania,)

An interesting feature of Wisconsin trails is that you have to pay a user fee – $5 for the day, $20 for a year.

It was worth it. The trail was shaded and afforded so many different views. Trains, bluffs along both sides of the river, swamps, trestles, even an Indian mound.

In the winter it is used by snowmobilers because Wisconsin.

I didn’t see anyone for ten miles then I saw some riders with event numbers on their shirts. Soon after a black van pulled along side me. It was a local bike shop doing support for the event. The woman and man and I talked for a while. She gave me some energy food things that tasted like marguerita mix. Trail angels show up when you least expect them.

Such nice people. They even took my picture to prove that I am not making this up from a bar in La Crosse.

I managed to get lost soon after this but The Google and a compass set me right. I road a few more miles on the road turning down a chance for Food and Booze! (Wisco people aren’t very subtle.)

I re-crossed the river at Winona Minnesota.

After a delicious burrito at the Winona Sandwich Shop, I headed north on highway 61. Yes, it’s the same one made famous by the Bob Dylan song only he was singing about the southern part in the Mississippi delta.

For about 20 miles I had a tailwind and a perfectly paved 12 foot shoulder. The Mule took off, cruising along at 16 miles per hour . Wheee!

For a brief period I diverted from this four lane highway to a quieter country road near Kellogg. They warned of jaywalking turtles.

About an hour later I was wondering if my destination got the night existed. Lake City is on a section of the river called Lake Pepin. The town once was a world leader in the manufacture of pearl buttons. And claims to be where water skiing was invented.

For me it held good and a campsite along the river.

I was pretty tired. Fortunately a nearby camper named Brad came over and helped me set my tent up. (The elastic cords inside my tent poles are stretched. Anybody know how to deal with this?)

And so the sun sets on another long day in the saddle. 90.5 miles.

My total mileage so far is 1,498.

Tomorrow I go to Saint Paul.

Any Road Tour: Day 19 – Great River Roading

Yesterday my waterproof panniers leaked again. The biggest victim was my 39 year old paperback copy of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

The clerk at the motel gave me a roll of 8 plastic bags to put my stuff in so I don’t think there will be any more water problems.

Yesterday The Mule passed another milestone. 47,000 miles. He gets extra oats tonight.

After eating mass quantities at the hotel breakfast bar, I hit the road from Prairie du Chien thinking I had 77 miles to ride. It turned out to be 63.5, all on Wisconsin’s Great River Road along the Mississippi River. The river is mostly a protected area in these parts so there wasn’t much motor boat noise. The road, a two lane highway, wasn’t nearly as peaceful. There were trains every 20 or 30 minutes, and car and truck traffic which increased throughout the day.

I could occasionally see the terrain in the western side of the river. It was very hilly. I cruised along headed north with a tailwind. River and railroad to my left, bluffs to my right. It was hazy until 12 a.m. so the views were rather muted. I can’t complain. Tailwind, riding in the shade, temps in the 70s.

I pulled into a gas station. The sign indicated I was in Wisconsin. For the record I have yet to try cheese curds. They are to Wisconsin what boiled peanuts are to North Carolina.

A few other signs caught my eye during my ride.

The views were well worth the increasing traffic as the day wore on.

At 3 I arrived in La Crosse Wisconsin which is only 62 miles from Prairie du Chien. With rain approaching I once again forgot about camping and headed for a hotel. Apparently La Crosse is a happening place this weekend. Most hotels in town that I could afford were sold out. The desk clerk at the sold out Courtyard found me a hotel that had a vacancy. It’s called Settle Inn. It’s still being built but what’s finished is quite nice.

There’s a guest laundry which was very much in need. And there is a restaurant next door.

Speaking of next door, Minnesota is now across the river. Iowa it was nice knowing you.

On to Minnesota!

Today’s miles: 63.5

Total so far: 1,407.5

Any Road Tour: Day 18 – Ups and Downs

I awoke to thunder. It was pouring outside. The weatherman said that the rain would end by 9 so I waited it out.

When I hit the road it was cool and breezy. The wind from the east was a tailwind for most of the day.

I rode through downtown Dyersville. It reminded me of downtown Bloomington Indiana in Breaking Away. I felt like telling a cop that I was a little disturbed by the developments in the Middle East, but I let the moment pass.

The riding began with a five mile tailwind. This allowed my legs to ease into the day. The tall grass on the side of the road looked like it had been through a tough time.

I rode north under overcast skies. To the north dark clouds loomed.

I did a four mile winding descent into Elkport that was quite thrilling. Sometimes even a Mule can fly.

Then came the climb. I was warned that this ride would get hillier as I headed north. Roger that.

Then it started to rain. I was already a bit chilled and the rain added to my shivers. I stopped and put on my rain jacket. Within minutes it was pouring. And there was thunder.

Pedal, pedal.

I checked my surroundings for shelter in the event of lightning. Barn. Porch. Garage.

The climbing kept me warm but I was starting to worry about my visibility. On a descent I pulled over to put on my blinking light belt. I was quite cold so I zipped up the pockets and pit zips on my jacket. Stopping The Mule took much much too long. Rim brakes are pretty useless when they are trying to stop 270+ pounds going 30 miles per hour in the rain.

I had a long downhill to Elkader. No guts, no glory.

Whoosh!

I made it to the bottom in one piece then started another long climb, perhaps the biggest one since Ohio.

About halfway up the beast, I spotted a burger joint with a covered patio. Food and shelter! When I stopped I realized that I was shaking from cold and tired and grumpy. The Google told me there were plenty of options for motels and such nearby. Hmmm.

The weatherman said the storm would pass over in about an hour. So I decided to enjoy some fish and chips. Hot food was just what I needed. My focus on rain-related matters had blocked out the fact that I was extremely hungry.

Snarf!

Then I spotted the sign for ice cream. “You want nutrition, eat a carrot.”

I ordered a double dip cone and inhaled that bad boy in minutes.

The counter staff advised me that there were plenty of hotels in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin about 30 miles away and just a couple of miles off my route.

The rain stopped and I decided to ride on to Monona, the day’s planned destination with free camping in the town park. 15 miles of hillage ensued.

The town park was lovely but the soggy ground and porta potties turned me off. After a coffee break at a gas station convenience store, I decided to ride 15 more miles to Prairie du Chien.

They were remarkably level miles with more Iowa farm views.

I passed through the town of Watson.

A few miles later I flew down a curving hill to the Mississippi River. It was a thrilling ride. I just took the lane and went for it.

As I entered the town of Marquette, I feathered my brakes to bring The Mule in compliance with the town speed limit.

I crossed the river to Wisconsin and did the state line sign picture thing.

And The Mule and I paid our respects to Father Marquette who “discovered” the Mississippi.

After a three mile search for lodging, I ended up at a Super 8 (again) south of town. After cleaning up, I went next door to the family restaurant and had the soup and salad bar. All of it.

I discovered that my waterproof Ortlieb panniers leaked quite a bit. The desk clerk at the hotel gave me a roll of plastic bags to wrap my things in. The worst victim of the water infiltration was my ancient copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

As I write this it is thundering again. Tomorrow’s route continues on the Iowa side of the river. About six very hilly miles away is Effigy Mounds National Monument. I’d like to check it out but the prospect of rain is putting me off. I understand that the terrain in Iowa to the north is super hilly. Lucky for me, the river road on the Wisconsin side is level. I shall take the path of least resistance.

Total miles: 77

Trip miles: 1,344.

UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.

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  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.

Tour Update – UP and Ferry!

The tour is on. The begining and end are not going to be a lot of fun but I worked it out.  Here’s the plan:

Day 1: Drive 12 hours from Alexandria VA to Ludington MI. This is midway up the eastern side of Lake Michigan. Park the car (for free!) at the ferry parking lot. Stay in hotel in Ludington. Celebrate end of hellish car ride.

Day 2: Ride one mile to ferry. Take SS Badger ferry to Manitowoc Wisconsin. Try really hard not to puke for four hours. Begin bike tour (about 50miles the first day).

Days 3 – 13: Ride to and across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (between Lakes Michigan and Superior). This will mostly involve Adventure Cycling’s North Lakes route. Take ferry to car-free Mackinac Island. Ride around island. Take ferry to Mackinac City on the lower peninsula. Ride the eastern shore of Lake Michigan back to Ludington. It should be a total distance about 850 miles. Crash in hotel. Eat all foods. Drink all drinks.

Day 14: Drive 12 hours home. Celebrate end of hellish car ride.

Anybody want to come with?