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Aug 5, 2012

Michigan to Ontario

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-7 overview summaryAnother milestone week as we crossed from Michigan into Ontario, Canada. We passed 3000 miles and three-quarters of our tour and completed a Lake Erie century. We had fun riding fast a few days and got cranky at the end of the week. We had a visit with Seattle friends Sean and Heather from Toronto area who rode their tandem self-supported from Seattle to DC. And we’re spending our rest day with our friend Grace in Buffalo. The border crossing was too crazy to get a photo of Niagara Falls but we’ll capture one on Monday when week 8 begins.

This week’s op-ed from Sheila

Staff

Greg with staff in signature yellow shirts.

Jean & VIcki

Some of you have expressed curiosity about the inner workings of Cycle America. I’ll do my best to describe what I know. First of all this company is 25 years old and the current owner, Greg Walsh, has run it for the last 17 years. So he has it down to a science. The Coast to Coast is run on even years and in odd years he runs week-long tours instead. There is an office in Cannon Falls, Minnesota with an administrative staff person named Tracy who we got to meet when we passed through town. On the road there are two crews of volunteers. Each crew works alternate days and rides on their off days, so M-W-F or T-Th-Sa, then everyone works on Sunday, our rest day. More about that later.

There are 2 bike mechanics, Andrew and Peter, both from Texas. On their work days they are on the road checking for folks who need mechanical assistance, hang out at picnic and then drive the picnic trailer into camp. Then they’re both available until dinner for any mechanical needs.

There are 2 routers, Dan and Ed. On their work day they drive a scout car and check and mark the established route and finalize our cue sheet for the next day. They use yellow spray paint to put arrows on the pavement for us to follow. If there’s unanticipated construction it’s their job to find an alternative route. At each night’s meting the router goes over the next day’s route with us. Then they get to ride their own route on their day off.

Coast to Coast riders

Tim, England

Marty, Minnesota

Beth, Minnesota

Theo, Netherlands

Gregg, California

Johanne, Canada &
Ineke, Netherlands

There are two teams of two as the picnic crew, Heidi and Shuli work together and Tom and Anya do as well. They are responsible for putting together the daily picnic menu including shopping, preparation and clean-up.

Then there are the 2 drivers each day, Matt, Olga, Jean and Vicki. We’ve described the sag process already. In addition to watching for riders in need of help, they first drop off the water stops, maintain them during the day, and deliver our bags to the school and off load them. I think they also act as floaters as needed. And Jean is the massage therapist. She sets up appointments in the afternoons. Like everyone else, these folks ride alternate days.

We are basically a traveling circus! Greg is the ringmaster and doesn’t get to ride at all. He’s the facilities contact person. So he’s the last one out in the morning, making sure all the areas are left as they should be, picking up lost and found, etc. And then he’s the first into the campsite each day as well. He determines which rooms will be used for what purpose and then posts pre-made color-coded signs designating such things as:

  • No Entry
  • Massage
  • Meals
  • Indoor Sleeping
  • Men’s and Women’s showers and rest rooms

On Sundays while we rest in a motel and do laundry, the entire staff are extremely busy. There’s usually some kind of transportation run to a nearby airport, dropping off and/or picking up riders. All the vehicles (3 vans with trailers and the car) must be washed and maintained. Food supplies must be refilled. And preparations for the coming week made. By 4 pm on Sunday they are registering the new arrivals, we have dinner at 5:30 and a group welcome orientation meeting follows. A shorter version of that happens every night after dinner. They do a remarkable job of keeping things flowing smoothly and meeting special needs as they come up including the injuries that have required trips to ERs.

I hope I haven’t left anyone out or misrepresented anything. I haven’t run this by anyone on staff. Suffice it to say they ALL do a fabulous job and work their butts off. Thank you!

Jul 30, 2012

3,000 miles (almost)

  • Ludington to Farwell, MI
  • 93.4 miles/2,994.4 total
  • 70-80°, low humidity
  • Gentle rolling terrain
  • 35 miles of pristine rail-to-trail

What a gorgeous day off we had. What a gorgeous day to ride today was. Pretty near all the stars have been aligned for us since we got to Michigan. We’ll see how long that takes to change. But we are enjoying it now.

We had a lot of extra time last weekend because our trip to the ferry was so short. We got all our chores done before noon on Sunday. We actually chose to ride our bike back into town to shop and play. Found a great health food store that even had Coconut Bliss and a microwave to warm our Amy’s burritos for lunch! We walked the beautiful sandy shores of Lake Michigan and waded knee deep in its warm water. I can still hear my mom yelling at us when we were at the Pacific, “Knee deep! Only knee deep!” This time I obeyed. We also walked out to the lighthouse at the end of a breakwater. It was a very relaxing day.

Today we were supposed to ride 94 miles. We thought we’d try to stretch it out to get to 100 so we’d be able to announce our 3,000 mile point. Again, the day was lovely. The sun gradually warmed everything from 66° to 75°. The sky was dappled with clouds, none threatening despite predictions of thundershowers. The route wound through a heavily forested area. Pines and oaks abounded providing shade as we climbed most of the morning.

We lunched at the lake in the center of the town of Idlewild. It was THE happening place around here in the 50s and 60s. Founded in 1912 as an African-American enclave during the Jim Crow era, it became the resort of choice for many. Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong and the 4 Tops performed in its many dance halls. After the Civil Rights Act opened the doors to other resorts in the 60s, the town dwindled and the businesses closed. But the locals are still proud of their history and are celebrating the centennial of its founding this year.

Not long after picnic we got on a rail trail that was the most wonderful I’ve ever ridden on. Smooth asphalt 8′ wide, no cracks or blemishes, led us through more forests at no more than a 1% grade when it climbed. We sailed along even though there were no winds to speak of. Suddenly it was a rarity to spy a field of corn and when we did, it was only a few acres. Such a change from the last 3 states. We made it to Farwell before 2.

Now we REALLY intended to double back on the trail to add in those last 6 miles. But when we stopped, we learned about another change with the arrival into Michigan. There are biting bugs here. They swarmed us at a couple of the water stops and Sheila was suffering from her extreme allergic reactions when we got to town. Getting away from the bugs seemed to make more sense than reaching a rather arbitrary number. So we chose health over hubris. We’ll hit 3,000 tomorrow, and 4,000 sometime after that. All is unfolding as it should.

Jul 31, 2012

Flying Wheels

  • Farwell to Frankenmuth, MI
  • 84.7 miles/3,079 total
  • Just a plain lovely day
  • 80° and dry

Another gigantic lightning storm last night. We were tucked in our bed in the school so we didn’t have to fret about it, but it woke us both up with the crashing and flashing. At least one of our intrepid group abandoned her tent and came inside because it was enough to give her the shivers. It was scary loud and close.

We began the day on the same pristine bike trail we’d been following yesterday. It would turn out to be another 35  miles of smooth trail, no traffic, and generally downhill cycling. We snapped this morning shot of the sun breaking through the clouds which were busy keeping us cool and comfortable. There were remnants of the old rail business along the trail, like these concrete or stone mileposts indicating the distance to Saginaw which must have been the terminal for this line.

The forecast for today was thundershowers at our destination until noon, so we dawdled in the morning. At a convenience store we got to chatting with the clerk about our trip. He was impressed with the distances we’ve traveled. After we left the store and before we got on the bike, we started doing some of our stretches. He was obviously watching because he came out and asked if we needed any Alleve before we left. What a nice guy.

As we rolled through Midland, a decent sized town, we caught up to a group of riders from Pennsylvania that joined our tour this week. There were 7 of them (of the 11 from the club that joined the trip) and they seemed fast. We finally all got off the bike trails and onto the street. We pulled out past them and zoomed away at 21 mph. They gave chase with the advantage of a line of bikes to take turns pulling. We stayed away all the way to picnic, 4 miles down the road. We were feeling pretty slick. Here’s a picture of that group at picnic from the day before. They’re all wearing their matching club jerseys. We actually gained a large group of one week riders this week. There are 36 of them and only 30 going coast-to-coast.

That set the tone for the after picnic portion of the ride. We were going to go fast. The storms were supposed to be past, the roads were flat, the wind was low. It was perfect tandem speed conditions. So we sped. We were rolling in the high teens and low twenties the rest of the day. We zoomed past clumps of singles, only to meet them again at water stops down the line. The one exception was when the Fly Boys went past us like a bullet train. They must have been doing 24-25. It was stunning.

We rolled into Frankenmuth just after 1. We decided to poke around the Bavarian-themed town before we checked in at the school. We sat on a bench and ate our lunch while I sipped a soy chai. We saw other riders checking out Main Street. The architecture is generally Bavarian, but we both thought Leavenworth, WA carries off the theme much more completely. The place we are eating dinner at tonight can seat 1,500 people at a time! Can you imagine how many staff must be working to make that happen?

We’re settled in at the middle school, home of the Eagles. Last night we were at Farwell High, home of the Eagles. I kind of wonder which Eagles we will be staying with tomorrow night.

Postscript
We just got back from dinner and wanted to share how impressed we were with the vegan option they provided us. Check out this quinoa stir-fry they put together including asparagus, red peppers, eggplant, green beans and more. Yummy!

Aug 1, 2012

Three-fourths done

  • Frankenmuth to Memphis, MI
  • 80.5 miles/3,160 total
  • We love the hills
  • We love riding fast

Last night we had a beautiful full moon. We decided we should take advantage of it and sleep outside for the first time since Wisconsin. It was a lovely night, not too hot, not too cool. As a matter of fact, the last few days of riding have been Goldilocks kind of days, not too anything. Maybe a little too flat, but there have been enough ups and downs to make it all palatable. The winds have been light or helpful. The temperatures have been moderate. The rains have been elsewhere. Basically everything has been just right.

Today was no exception. We rolled out of Frankenmuth into a very pleasant countryside. Some variety of crops, some forested lands, some wide open spaces. We even had a couple of hills today which required continued effort! Through it all we just kept rolling. Saw this interesting couple alongside the road. It looks like they wished they had a tandem, too. We stopped in North Branch, MI (named for the North Branch of the Flint River) and had an excellent apple fritter. The folks in the bakery were properly astounded that we’d ridden for 6 weeks on our bike.

We spied this bird which we falsely identified as a peregrine falcon on the way to picnic. Actually it is a red-tailed hawk. Seeing it is a result of what we call the “stoker advantage.” Sheila has the chance to look around and see things I miss while concentrating on the white line. It was so calm and collected, sitting in its tree right next to the rushing traffic. We got a good long look at him.

Picnic entailed the usual hobnobbing and joshing around. After picnic, we decided to go for our speed record. We tooled along quickly to a water stop which had about 8 cyclists preparing their paceline for the last 15 miles. They left. We left. We caught them and hit the gas to put some distance between us. That sparked us into high gear. We kept pushing the pace and lo, there in the distance were Dennis and Holly (pictured here). They’re fast riders we can never catch. But we were gaining on them slowly. They’d disappear around a curve and we’d come around and they’d be further away. Several times Sheila stood and pushed our pace up to the 25 mph range. But we just couldn’t close the gap. After about 6 miles, we gave it up. But now we were very close to our best average time ever, 17.1. We kept flying and finished the day in Memphis with a 17.2 average. That means we spent less time in the saddle than usual, which is always a good thing.

The tent is set up. We’re clean. Now all we have to do is wait for dinner. We like the rhythm of the days. So far we are still enjoying getting up every morning and riding. That’s a good thing. We think one of the reasons is because we’re pretty much always in the moment, with no work or worries to distract us. We’ve still got more than a thousand miles to go in the next two and a half weeks. Tomorrow we cross into Canada. Our own wi-fi won’t work there so we’re hoping to find libraries and cafes to blog in. If you don’t see us tomorrow, that’ll be why.

Aug 2, 2012

O Canada!

  • Memphis, MI to West Lorne, ONT
  • 84 miles
  • Faster than yesterday!
  • Played tandem games

These last few days have had an unwritten theme: get through Michigan as quickly as possible. I’m not trying to insult all the Michiganders out there. It’s a lovely state with great riding. But every day has been blazingly fast for us. We’ve covered an average of about 85 miles a day. Zip! So now we have made it to Canada.

The skies were more glowering although they never got around to raining. As with yesterday, the roads were gently rolling or flat. We quickly got into speed mode. We passed a couple of pacelines of singles. Then we snuck up on our friend Gregg from California and charged past him. We leapfrogged each other while maintaining speeds over 20. We even took turns pulling instead of racing. It was loads of fun and before we knew it, we were at the ferry crossing the Belle River to Canada. It was a small, 10 car ferry and the captain piloted it with great expertise, sliding smoothly up to the dock on each side.

A quick stop at customs gave us entry into the Maple Leaf Nation. We again sped along and played more “catch me if you can” games with singles. By mile 50, picnic, we were tired! But it was great to have gotten in such a good workout two days in a row. Our average speed at picnic was 18.1!

Afterwards we were chugging along, but we had nobody to play games with. It was more difficult to ride fast. We knew our average would drop, but figured it would stay high enough to set a new record. The roads were still flat, the winds weren’t nasty. It all looked good.

About 12 miles from the end, we came to Wardsville. We noticed these large abstract paintings on squares all over town. Many were on the sides of barns, but others were free-standing. What did they mean? Part of the answer comes from the SW Ontario Barn Quilt Trails. Then rode past a place calling itself an eco-art center. It looked intriguing so we turned back to it. We met the owner, Rick Summer, who was just starting a tour with another wanderer who had stopped by. It is a large garden of art made from found materials with found tools. He has hollowed out trees, created an outdoor shower for use by passing cyclists, a Camelot-themed wedding tent, and lots of other art pieces. This holy man painting lights up at 3 PM when light shines through and highlights the eyes of the yogi. It was a splendid detour. He even had stray cats to play with.

Now it was time to head to the barn. Unfortunately, as we turned to do the last 6 miles, the wind reminded us not to take it for granted. It blew right in our faces for the whole ride in. We pushed as hard as we could, but the average was dropping, 17.7, 17.6, 17.5. It was only through a supreme push that we were able to hold it to 17.3 by the time we got into town. Then, to our joy, we found a community center which allowed us to use their computers for free. So we’ve been able to write this blog, prepare the photos and upload it all. It’s a lot faster when we can work in tandem! Hmmm…seems to be a theme. We are happy. Now off to set up camp.

 

Aug 3, 2012

Lake Erie Century

  • West Lorne to Port Dover, ONT
  • 99 miles
  • Alternative energy sources
  • Early start
  • Canadian friends to visit

When I wrote that we’d been averaging a high number of miles per day yesterday, I didn’t know that today would be even longer. We pretty much did a century (100 miles). Again the forecast dictated our riding schedule. We opted to get up early, break camp, and skip the formal breakfast at 6:30. Instead, Sheila got our protein drinks blended and we drank them and left. It got us on the road by 6:30, when the mists were rising over the fields and all was quiet.

By leaving early we also had nobody else around us on the road. We had to entertain ourselves. Fortunately that was pretty easy. Especially when we had such fun things as this drive-in movie screen for soy plants to look at. I mean, why would having a movie screen make soy plants grow faster? We saw them in many fields. And, interestingly enough, they all seemed to be oriented toward the sun. I wonder why that was? These little mysteries kept us rolling along.

We were finally passed by Robin around the 45 mile mark. His two boys were not with him. In fact, they were ahead of everyone. They had decided to leave at 4:30 AM and ride all 172 miles to Niagara Falls today. It has to do with a girlfriend waiting there. The things we do for love.

We were among the first 10 people at picnic. That’s never happened before and will probably never happen again. It was right on the shore of Lake Erie. There was a cute lighthouse. The entire time we were there a tractor was raking the beach. It’s a Friday morning ritual. They clean up all the garbage by raking the beach. It was very well groomed by the time we left.

In the afternoon we passed through the largest windfarm run by Hydro 1, the local utility. We learned a few more things about the turbines. The blades are as long as a Boeing 737. They automatically orient themselves to the wind and adjust the blades so they keep a constant speed of 13-19 rpms. People often worry about their danger to birds, but of every 10,000 birds killed by human activity (including cats, cars, and turbines) only one is attributable to the turbines. I just don’t see the downside. Though clearly some here do as there were anti-wind yard signs.

The Fly Boys came rushing past us just before the last water stop. Those last 15 miles were tough because the road would drop down to a little community, then climb back out often at a 10+% grade. It was hard at the end of a long day in the saddle. We finally stopped for blueberries at a produce stand. The shade and the food helped revitalize us for the trip in.

Once again we’ve found free computers to work on. We’re in the Port Dover Public Library. We love libraries. Not only are the computeres and wi-fi free but the librarian helped us learn several new things which we’ll share in tomorrow’s post. When we are done here, we’ll set up camp, then eat. Our friends Sean and Heather Kane are now living outside Toronto and they are coming down to see us. They cycled from Seattle to Washington DC in 2001, self-supported on their tandem. We’ll probably swap road stories and gawk at their two children. It’ll be fun.

Aug 4, 2012

Niagara Falls….and cranky

  • Port Dover to Niagara Falls, ONT
  • 72 miles/3414 total
  • Toughest day of the trip
  • HOT! Variable winds

We had such a pleasant time with Heather and Sean and their two children last night. We even got more tips on cross-country travel by bike. They both reported that after they finished their two month trip, their muscles ached for a week or two longer. Something about not being accustomed to not being used any more. Something else to watch out for.

We also learned a graphic lesson about the dew point. That is the temperature at which dew will form and depends on many other factors like humidity and winds. For the last 4 days it has cooled off at night well below the dew point. Our rain fly has consequently been dripping wet in the morning. This morning when we awoke, the fly was dry. While that was nice because it meant I wouldn’t have to dry out the tent Saturday evening, I didn’t realize it also meant we were starting the day hotter than ever. And so we began the last day of our seventh week.

It was a tough day. We’d been saying earlier in the week how nice it always felt getting back on the bike in the morning. Not so today. Sheila had left knee pain and butt pain from the get go. My rear was also sore from the start. I was also dripping with sweat as soon as we started pedaling. It felt like we had no legs today. That could be because we had worked so hard the past 4 days. We couldn’t get any speed up. We couldn’t maintain a positive focus. It was difficult to keep going.

We had been passing fields of alfalfa the last couple of days, but missed seeing any today, It’s planted as a rotational crop to re-energize the soil. They bring in bees for it to make honey. It smells really good. But we weren’t able to identify it until we talked with a librarian in Port Dover.

Much of the day was spent cruising along Lake Erie. It’s the start of a three-day weekend here and everyone seemed to be at their shore houses. People were walking along the roads, visiting with neighbors, setting up tents. It felt very communal. But we just rode through. We knew if we stopped or slowed more, we might never get going again.

We were happily surprised at picnic to see Kathy, who had crashed out of the trip during the third week. She had broken her scapula but stopped by picnic today to see us all. (Her mom lives in Buffalo, so it was a two-for-one trip from her home in Pennsylvania.) She looks great and is already planning to return in ’14 to finish her trip.

There were nice little surprises on the way. We got to ride this passenger/bike ferry across the Welling Canal, part of the St. Lawrence Seaway. It would cost $20 million to build a bridge, so the city just pays 2 guys to shuttle people across the canal for free. Notice the name on the boat.

When we finally got to Niagara, our friend Grace was waiting there to greet us and shepherd us back to her home in Buffalo. She got us to a store with a great healthy foods section. But by that time we were literally melting down from the heat, humidity, and strain of riding 7 weeks. She’s taking great care of us though. We hope to be back on track soon before our rest day is complete. She’s getting up at 0’dark thirty Monday morning to take us back across the border to rejoin our tour group. What a friend!

Now for a another interesting bit. We’d seen these sheds (the doors must be 15′ high) throughout our ride yesterday. We couldn’t figure out what they were used for. Turns out they are old-style tobacco drying rooms. We didn’t know we were going through tobacco country. Nowadays they dry it in things that look like cargo containers. They used to burn down drying houses when they wanted to get rid of them. They are so soaked in tobacco, however, that it is a health hazard to burn them now and is prohibited. I guess they just let them rot now.

So our day today wasn’t our longest, our steepest, or our hottest. But tough can take many forms. And today was just plain tough. Here’s hoping you are all well and happy.