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Jul 29, 2012

Wisconsin

Clicking the week’s summary chart will bring up a detailed route map for the week including elevation gains. After the summary and overview of the week and Sheila’s op-ed piece, you’ll see the posts in order starting with the first post of the week.You can view any week of posts by clicking on the week in the sidebar.

Click to see week-6 overview summaryThis week we crossed the Mississippi into Wisconsin, where we saw a shift from the flat straight roads of the Great Plains to hilly, curvy and lush roads. During the week we shifted from intense heat to intense thunder storms, and viewed a wide assortment of birds and wildlife. At the end of the week we made our final time-zone change when we crossed Lake Michigan by ferry.

This week’s op-ed from Sheila

It’s hard to believe we’re already two-thirds through our itinerary. We still have three weeks left packed with many more adventures including: three days in Canada where we may not be able to post on the blog, a visit with our dear friend Grace when we get to Niagara Falls, and then a tour through New England wrapping up with some time with my brother and family. A lot to look forward to and to be present for.

Still, I can already feel some sadness that this tour will be ending. While I’ve loved every minute of  it, there is contradictorily a bit of a tug toward our home life and city routines as well. This is the longest we’ve ever been away from home. Though I must say I do NOT miss hearing the omnipresent sirens here are some things I do miss:

  • Morrie, our cat
  • our bed and shower
  • our daily meditation practice and weekly Sangha
  • our friends (and playing pinochle!)
  • our healthy food habits (VitaMix and Coop)
  • my regular yoga practice

In some ways this is also a tour of America’s schools. We mostly stay at high schools with an occasional middle school, university or campground. It’s interesting to see how much they vary and  yet are the same. Each day when we get in we check the info board for the weather report and then check out the school’s gym. One of the first things I look for is a place to plug-in the technology to charge and as our blogging headquarters. Here are some of the other variables we consider before making our decision of where to sleep for the night:

  • Is it likely to rain overnight?
  • Is it hotter inside or outside?
  • Is there air conditioning? Or fans?
  • Do the lights all turn off or are there security lights that will remain on?
  • Where are the bathrooms and do the doors close quietly?
  • Where are the snorers sleeping?

We’ve become connoisseurs of locker room showers as well. It’s amazing how many of them use an extremely high pressure spray that is a bit like getting sand-blasted. Sometimes there’s no hot water and sometimes it’s so hot you’re expecting to be scalded before you’re done. Most do not have anywhere to set your soap and shampoo except on the floor. If there’s a handicap shower it’s usually the best choice as it has a handheld nozzle with a better spray. Even the bathroom sinks have a range of utility. Many have a gang sink where you use a foot pedal to activate an arc of spray. You can’t wash water bottles with those. Others have the push button that dispenses a timed surge of water. And a rare few have normal hot and cold faucets with manual controls. They’re always welcome.

Ah yes, it will be lovely to be back home with our ideal shower, sink, and bed. But not knowing what to expect is part of the adventure of it all.

Jul 23, 2012

Crossing the Great Muddy

  • 82.8 miles/ 2,551 total
  • Hot, humid, no wind
  • Rolling hills, long climbs
  • Lost, found, lost, found
  • New state

Today we had a weird day. Breakfast wasn’t to be served until we got to mile 16. We had our shake in our hotel room, then went out to put the gear on the truck at 6:15. The truck was delayed for some reason so we started riding about ten to 7.

Now here is the thing about riding in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is hot. It is humid. By the time we’ve ridden 5 miles, I am drenched. My clothes are soaked. My body is dripping. My glasses fog up instantly when I put them on. None of these things are comfortable and one of them caused us grief today.

We were one of the last ones on the road, but we were zipping along at 18-19 mph. At 8.2 miles I asked Sheila to consult the cue sheet about the next turn. We figured it was a mile away. But after we’d gone 2 miles there was still nothing, so we retraced our path. We found 280th street, knew we wanted 290, so we turned around again. The next street we saw, a mile later, was 270th. Ooops. We’d miscalculated badly. Another u-turn and a couple more miles got us back on the course. I had missed the yellow arrows because we’d been going too fast, the glasses were fogged, and the sun blocked my view of the signal. No matter, it’s just 7 extra miles. Then we got waylaid by another group’s yellow markers and took another 4 mile detour off route. By the time we got to our 16 mile breakfast stop, we’d done 27 miles.

We were well and truly the last ones on the route until picnic. But it was scenic. The roads were lined with trees when they weren’t surrounded by crops. There were hills of all sizes. The road turned and bent often. (Sherriff Wise, you were right. This is a beautiful section to ride in!) We loved it all. Especially since the climbs had shady spots right there on the road!

We picnicked alongside the Mississippi River in the town of Red Wing. It is home of Red Wing Shoes. We’d caught up with a bunch of slow eaters, so were feeling part of the gang again. We swapped stories with 2-G Gregg who had gotten 30 miles off route Saturday. Then we crossed the river into Wisconsin.

Our route took us south along the Mississippi for almost 30 miles. Great towering bluffs, wide open water, and trees, trees, trees. It was gorgeous. We stopped at Flat Pennies Ice Cream Shop to get water and cool off before we started our last 2.5 mile climb. Jim, the owner, makes all the ice cream they sell. He’s been in Bay City for 6 years and is a heck of a nice guy. Stop by and see him if you drive Wisconsin 35.

Refreshed, we charged up the big hill. It was 5% for the first mile, then dropped back to 3. There was lots of shade, so even though the temperatures were nearing 92, we did fine. Another screaming descent left us less than 15 miles from Pepin. We pedaled steadily.

Soon we’d arrived in Pepin. We tried to get some pie at the pie shoppe, but failed. They were just about to close and only had cream pies left. Too bad. We grabbed some treats at the local store, then got to the school for the night. Oooops. They’re working on their water main. There is no water for showers as I write. It should be done soon……….. It could be a long sweaty night.

Jul 24, 2012

75 miles of rain

  • 90.3 miles/ 2,641 total
  • RAIN, RAIN, RAIN
  • Rock in a house
  • 3 stingers to finish, 9, 11, 13%

We went to sleep last night with showers starting. They continued all night, turning into thundershowers by morning. It was looking grim enough we packed almost all our foul weather gear on the bike. We wore booties, rain jackets, and rain caps on the helmets. Many people tried to wait out the storm, but we figured the rain was here for the long haul so we might as well get going. We were out by 7.

Wisconsin has been in the throes of a terrible drought. Crops have been drying up all around. We talked with the cashier at a KwikMart who told us the storms have been coming right to the edge of the state, then disappearing. It’s been driving the farmers crazy. Today they should be happy because as far as I could tell, they got a good soaking.

We were drenched from the time we got on the road. It wasn’t terribly cool, right around 70 most of the day. But the wet was everywhere. It’s funny because the wet didn’t bother us as much as the wet from humidity had done the previous couple of days. Wet falling from the sky seems more reasonable somehow. We didn’t expect it to last as long as it did, though.

Along the way to picnic we stopped in Fountain City to see the Rock in the House. One day 12 years ago a woman was working in her kitchen when she heard a big BOOM! Two hundred tons of rock had fallen off the bluffs behind her house. One 55-ton rock rolled all the way down the hill and embedded itself in her bedroom. It looks almost like a milling wheel. (Imagine the rock wheel BC rides around on, except it is 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide.) Other than the bedroom being demolished, there was virtually no damage to the house. Unoccupied now (you can guess why) the house is kept as it was that day. Photos show the path the rock plowed down the hillside. Calling it rock in the house is a bit understated. It is very impressive.

The rain stopped while we had picnic. That was a welcome relief. But as soon as we started rolling, it started coming back down. Some folks were getting grumpy, but really, what’s to be done? We weren’t getting wetter. It was relatively comfortable without being overly hot. It really wasn’t even unpleasant. It was just wet.

The skies lightened and we dared hope it might be stopping. We dumped our jackets, booties, and helmet covers. Sheila even dried her feet and put on socks. It was blissful. We took note of how different the landscape was here. Trees are all over and there are bluffs as you go along the Mississippi River that remind me of Chinese landscapes. There are also the fields of corn and soy, but the ambiance is much more northwest than plains. And some Sandhill Cranes

The rain returned for our last 15 miles. We made do with just our jackets since we were wet through and through. Besides, there were 3 stiff climbs coming at the end of the day. Each had a long run-up of staircase climbs: climb, level off, climb, level off. Then the road turned sharply to the sky. All of them were about a third of a mile long, so they were short. But the first one was at 9%, the second was at 11% and the third was at 13%. What a nasty way to finish a 91 mile day! Did I mention it was raining still? Now our hope is to dry it all overnight.

Jul 25, 2012

A day for the birds

  • Sparta to Baraboo, WI
  • 76.1 miles/2,717 total
  • 50 miles of flat limestone Rail to Trail
  • 3 Tunnels
  • Sandhill Cranes
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Cardinals
  • Blue Jays
  • Goldfinches
  • Blue Heron

It’s truly amazing how we can do basically the same thing every day and yet experience it so differently every day. Yesterday was incredibly wet. More showers were in the forecast for today. Accordingly, we went prepared for weather. We had both our panniers loaded with a variety of wet weather gear. This virtually guaranteed it would not rain on us. That was the good news. The other good news was that we didn’t see a single 18 wheeler along the roads today. Today was fated to be a day away.

We left Sparta around 7 and almost instantly got on the Sparta-Elroy Trail, the nation’s first rail trail. The lead up to it was this giant penny-farthing statue indicating that Sparta is the cycling capital of America. (They decided that because they have the highest per capita number of registered bikes. Hmmmm.) The trail isn’t paved which initially sounded dicey. After all, we’d done 30 miles of chipseal and 15 miles of gravel earlier in the trip and weren’t thrilled with it.

But a crushed limestone surface is smooth and well-packed. Since it had rained the day before, there was no dust. It was a very pleasant riding experience. Instead of roads with white lines or paved bike trails with tree root bumps, we had a gentle, tree-lined ride. At times it seemed we were alone in a deciduous forest. Comfort stations were plentiful. And there was precious little traffic.

One highlight of the trail was a series of tunnels. The first was 3,000′ long. The other two were about half that. None were lit. They reminded us of the Hiawatha Trail we rode last summer in Idaho. The problem was that the tunnels were unmonitored so people weren’t required to have lights. Without lights, you basically had to walk your  bike. We had our great Costco lights, so we were confident about successfully completing the rides. But the first tunnel was so long, we had to eventually walk because we caught up to a crowd of walkers too large to get by. These tunnels were basically dug by hand and explosives. The big one cost $65 dollars a foot to build.

After the tunnels, the trail was virtually flat. It was Wisconsin trying to outdo South Dakota in boring roads. It was as flat, straight, and windy as South Dakota, but it was better because it had shade trees almost all the way. It was just as mesmerizing as the South Dakota roads too. But as I piloted us on, head down, Sheila yelled, “STOP!”. There were three Sandhill Cranes in the field next to us. Beautiful. They are pretty darn big birds.

Sheila continued to call out bird sightings until I finally started looking around for them too. I finally spied my first goldfinch, fluttering along to our left, chasing us up the trail. It was great. A little later a cardinal did the same thing. I think he stayed with us for a quarter mile. We saw hawks, herons, and bluejays too. Finally I made the big sighting. Two Sandhill Cranes were standing next to the bike path in the  horse lane. We coasted slowly past not 5 feet from the birds. It was amazing.

We visited with a father-son team riding from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee at one stop. We saw them again at picnic, 58 miles into our ride. That was a long wait for picnic. By then we were getting very hot and very tired. We were back out on the roads after 55 miles of trails. The roads were all in the outback so there was practically no traffic. The temps were climbing toward 95. About 6 miles from the end we had another 15% grade. This one hadn’t been announced so it was especially nasty. It only lasted .7 mile. That’s just the way it goes. The story we were telling ourselves about the hill was painful, but  the hill was just hard. Like the 55 miles of limestone trail. We could tell ourselves a story about how rough it was, but the reality was it was pretty pleasant. Would we really rather be hugging the white line near huge farm-to-market trucks? This trip just keeps on telling us to be here now. Flutter along with the birds. They get buffeted by the winds, but they always find a place to perch.

Jul 26, 2012

Thunder showers every 12 hours

  • Baraboo to Beaver Dam, WI
  • 62.4 miles/2779.9 total
  • Sunny warm riding
  • Incredible rain/lightning at end

Wow! Now THIS is weather. We slept inside last night because of predictions of thunderstorms. I awoke at 12:30 AM to the sound of thunder. And we were in the basement. I wandered upstairs and was treated to the biggest lightning storm I’d ever seen. Multiple flashes every few seconds. Some lit the whole sky. When I opened a door to listen to it, water poured in as if I was opening the hatch on a surfacing submarine. It was incredible.

By morning, all was calm. And warm. We started riding with the temp at 77°. The humidity was so high I was instantly soaked. This is getting to be a regular pattern in the Midwest. The ride today was so short, we only had one water stop instead of three. It was all easy rollers and flats. We lollygagged and still made good time. We were at picnic by 10. At this point the temperature was nearing 85°. We even got tailwinds after picnic. We sailed into Beaver Dam just about noon.

We decided to set up the tent since it was going to cool down during the night and the indoor accommodations weren’t great. After I got done with that, I took a shower. When I returned from the shower it was as if the lights were turned off outside. Closer examination revealed a big thunderstorm drenching the area. Water poured over the gutters on the side of the school. It literally frothed as it rolled down the walkways. Many bikes were leaned against the building and they were inundated. A few very late riders who had lollygagged more than we did, came swimming in. It was amazing. And it all ended in less than an hour. Right now the sky is blue and people are trying to dry off stuff they’d hung out to dry.

“But what did you see on the way?” the hungry reader asks. Pretty much more of the same. The terrain is still hilly. There are still lots of trees. The new bird we sighted today was a flying great blue heron. We saw a red-tailed black squirrel at picnic. And several large willow trees. We rode past a one room school house. But there was not much new to take pictures of.

We do have a photo question for you to answer. What do you think this structure is for? They abound on almost every farm. We’ve never seen birds in them despite their resemblance to an aviary. Answer will come later this week.

Until then, the operative phrase for this tour seems to be: “Be ready. Anything can happen.”

Jul 27, 2012

Fair, foul and fowl

 

  • Baraboo to Plymouth, WI
  • 74 miles (2854 total)
  • Weather!
  • Feathers
  • Almost out of Wisconsin

Sometimes you just have to push your luck. It would be safer to, say, sleep in the school hallways. But where is the adventure in that? We opted to stay in our tent even though the afternoon thunderstorm had threatened to wash it away. I dried it out before dinner and restaked it properly so I was feeling confident. More so because there was only a 20% chance of isolated thundershowers.

I guess I should have bought a lottery ticket. We cashed in on the showers. We got hit by 4 distinct showers last night. Our tent came through with flying colors. There was only a little dampness around the edges when we got up. We had to pack it wet and hope to dry it out in the afternoon. In the meantime we had a beautiful morning of riding. It wasn’t hot, only 70° or so. The terrain was very tandem friendly with good rollers. We were cruising around 20 mph much of the time.

At mile 21 we got our big treat. We entered Horticon National Wildlife Refuge. Our birding friends would have loved it. (Dianne and Sooz, I mean youse.) There was a 3 mile loop to ride and in the quiet of the morning it was a magical marshland. There was a floating boardwalk which extended out into the marsh so you could get a bird’s eye view of the wildlife. (As long as the bird in question was a duck sitting on the water.) We saw yellow headed black birds, egrets, geese, pelicans, swallows, sand pipers, red winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings. It was great. The swallows perched on the walkway and posed for us. A turtle sat next to a Canada goose. It was extremely peaceful to be out among the animals there.

After that we had some challenging riding. Hills with grades higher than 11% are common here. Usually they don’t last long, but they can present ugly surprises when you come upon them. One series had 1,000′ long, steep climbs separated by equally steep downs. You’d get to the bottom and the next hill looked like Mt. Everest. We had to do our best riding, carrying lots of speed into the hills, then shifting into manageable gears for the steep pitch. We thought they’d never end.

When they did, we were in a huge wind farm. About that time we noticed the very black clouds forming to the northwest. We were headed mostly northeast, but they were gaining on us. Now we had a mission, get to picnic before the sky opened. We went full throttle for half an hour, sweating when our road turned north, then cheering when we turned east athwart the line of clouds. At one point we felt a few drops of rain but quickly pulled ahead of the front. The winds get very swirly near the front line. We got into picnic, which included a huge covered pavilion, just 10 minutes ahead of the storm.

It ended and our native midwesterners said it was safe to head out. We did. Within 5 miles the skies opened up again. We pulled on our wind jackets which immediately soaked through. We’d left all our raingear behind because we’d carried it all needlessly the day before. Nothing to do but power through the storm. Which is what we did. In 20 minutes it dried up. We could now see the scenic route we were following, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. The whole day was very pretty riding. Many of the roads were lined with blue chicory.

Thirty minutes after we got to the school, the skies opened up yet again. It was one of those how much rain can we get out of the sky in how little time kind of rains. I’d been drying out our stuff and barely had time to get it all indoors before the big drops started falling. It is so nice to be have the option to be protected from the foul weather.

And finally, the answer to yesterday’s photo quiz was correctly answered by Richard, Phil, and Wendy. It is indeed a corn crib. They used to be used to store corn on the cob for livestock feed. Now machines get the corn off the cobs in the field leaving the cobs behind. So these are rarely seen in use anymore. The ones shown here were the first occupied corn cribs we’ve seen. Thanks for playing.

Jul 28, 2012

The longest short day

  • Plymouth to Manitowoc, WI
  • Manitowoc WI to Ludington, MI via ferry
  • 40 miles/2,983 total
  • Sunny, warm, very pleasant
  • Lake Michigan is BIG

Today’s goal was to get to Manitowoc in time for a 2 PM ferry. We needed to cover 40 very flat miles to do it. That should have taken us 2 and a half hours at our normal pace. Let’s see. If we start riding at 7, like normal, we’ll get there by9:30. That’ll get us in with more than 4 hours to spare. It’ll be an easy day.

So we dawdled as much as we could. At breakfast we visited with Christian and his two friends who came to ride with him today. There was nothing much to take pictures of, despite the fact that the countryside was lovely.

Sometimes we couldn’t help going fast. Gregg from California was coming up fast on our tail. He’s very competitive, so before he could catch us we put the pedal to the metal. He persevered for quite a while until we got up to 23. Then he sat back a bit, which was good because we were toast. We sat up, he sped up. When he went by he casually commented on how nice the day was. He is so cool.

When we got to Lake Michigan we were astonished by how big it is. It is like being at the ocean, without the surf. We found a couple of easy chairs on the side of a bluff overlooking the lake and relaxed until Christian and his friends stopped by and then we posed for pictures. It looked like the setting for a Cialis ad. We could have spent an hour there, but the lounge chairs obviously belonged to the house across the street. So we went on.

We got into Manitowoc by 10:30. Picnic was very extravagant as it was hosted at the home of a former Cycle America staff member. We snacked. I cleaned the bike chain. Sheila’s fixed up our pictures to add to the blog. We watched the Olympics. I took a nap. And we still had an hour to wait when I woke. So I wrote the blog. Then we loaded onto the ferry for a 4 hour ride to Michigan. Sheila added the photos and we’re posting this before we take off.

We’ll add an hour for the change to Eastern Time and we’ll be getting in very late tonight. Fortunately, we packed snacks for the ferry including soy milk for tomorrow’s breakfast shake. When we get in, we’ll be checking into a motel for our rest day which we always look forward to. Today marks the close of week six so we’re officially two-thirds through our trip. YIPPEE!