5. Iowa & Minnesota Bicycling Across The USA

Iowa and Minnesota, Sept. 19 to 26

We rode into Iowa on a county road just north of State Route 9 on Friday, September 19. We were within a few miles of Route 9 on Saturday as we rode into Spirit Lake. Jim turned north on Sunday to get to Jackson, Minnesota, riding along US Highway 71. Brad followed a day later. We were riding through platted townships, so we used quiet county roads parallel to the state highways as much as possible. We blocked out the route on the major roads and then used the state’s official bicycling map to make specific decisions.  It’s a great map.

Monday, September 22 was a rest day in Jackson, Jim’s home town. On Tuesday we rode a mile north of Jackson, crossed Interstate 90, and picked up State Route 16. This was once a Federal highway that went from Detroit to Yellowstone, but in Minnesota and Michigan the US government switched its spending to the interstate. The road is still there, however, and we followed it most of the way across the state. On Tuesday night we stayed at a county-owned campground in Wells. On Wednesday we were at a private RV park outside of Spring Lake. On Thursday we reached the Root River Rail Trail, which gave us a 40-mile break from traffic and a wonderful campsite at a public nature center in Houston. On Friday we continued east and crossed the Mississippi River to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

5. Iowa & Minnesota Bicycling Across The USA

Days 41 & 42: Rest in Jackson, MN

Sunday and Monday were rest days. Jim and Sara stayed at the home of Dave and Joan Hargan in Jim’s hometown of Jackson, MN. Brad and Tania joined them at the Hargan home on Sunday for dinner but stayed at an inn on Lake Okoboji, about 20 miles south, until Tania’s flight left on Monday. Brad went to Jackson on Monday and got a top-quality massage from Coni Hutchings. He then floated over to the Hargan home, where he and Jim met with friends on Monday night to talk about the ride (lots of questions about bears) and old times (Jim’s). The Hargans were generous, funny, and kind to three weary travelers, and we are much obliged. On Tuesday morning the 23rd we headed east on Minnesota Route 16, which was once U.S. Highway 16 but is now a quiet state highway that parallels Interstate 90.

5. Iowa & Minnesota Bicycling Across The USA

Days 43 & 44: Jackson to Spring Lake, MN

I always used to say that if you’re bored, it is your own fault. It means that you aren’t looking hard enough because something interesting is always there. On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 23 and 24, Minnesota’s county roads tested this truism. Each day was a trek of more than 70 miles through flat fields of corn and soybeans, punctuated by well-kept farmhouses. Sometimes 10 or 12 miles would go by before I noticed something (anything) different. On Tuesday we did meet three interesting men, though, and we did beat the rain.

We started off from Jackson around 9am, expecting to get wet. It was humid with a strong wind from the south, and the forecast called for thunderstorms. Minnesota’s Transportation Department publishes bicycle maps that show traffic counts and shoulder widths for state and county roads; we used these to chart a course parallel to and just south of Interstate 90. We would happily have charted a less direct route for scenery or some other notable thing, but we just couldn’t find anything (except for a “Liver and Onion Feed” coming up at the Eagles Lodge, but we couldn’t stay). So we hit the flat road, leaned into the wind, and burned up the morning.

The first interesting man was Larry Vogel, who owns the bike shop in Fairmont. Larry doesn’t advertise, he isn’t on the Internet, and he doesn’t want to be photographed. His shop is the only one in the 200 or so miles between Sioux Falls and Albert Lea. He plays horns in a group called the Tarnished Brass, and used to teach school. His shop is a chaotic combination of 20th Century bicycles of all types, metal toys, model railroad cars, tiny buildings for model railroad layouts, band equipment, sheet music, and a few bikes and other things for sale. The bikes are clearly not the main items. Larry did have the replacement safety flag Jim needed, though, and he gave us excellent route advice.

Larry is heading off to Wyoming next week to ride the Wind River Range, and he and Jim had a pleasant chat the way two Midwestern men do: with not much eye contact, watching their own shoes, and being helpful while also practicing one-upmanship. By the way, Larry has some top-of-the-line Trek road bikes ($2,000 to $4,000 or so retail) that he’s selling for ridiculously deep discounts just to get rid of them. If you want one, he would be worth a call.

The second interesting fellow was in Blue Earth, and you also know him. The town keeps an 80-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant next to Interstate 90, conveniently (for us) located next to the Dairy Queen. Jim climbed between the Giant’s legs and tried to grab his niblets, but he couldn’t reach high enough. I honestly don’t think the Giant has any, anyway.

The third interesting man was Paul More. Paul is the father of the young man who offered tea to Jim and Paul Kersting during a rainstorm outside of Yellowstone Park (for the complete story, see Jim’s post for Day 21). The tea-bringing Good Samaritan had said that his father owned an agricultural implement store in Blue Earth. We happened to ride by and Paul was outside, using an enormous wrench to bust a nut on a combine. He seemed pleased to hear that his son had made a kind and thoughtful gesture. We shared observations on what a small world it is. Then I heard thunder and we got back on the road.

We had ten miles to go and rain was building to the south and west. Scattered drops started to fall. They were big ones. I thought it was going to be another day of slogging through the last 45 minutes and arriving soaked. We pushed harder and managed to stay just on the fuzzy line where rain was imminent or maybe starting but not heavy. As we turned onto the gravel road that lead to Piehls County Campground, six miles south of Wells, a cold downdraft hit us and I was sure we were going to get it. We screamed into the campground and put our bikes under the camper, which Sara the Blessed had already set up. Within ten minutes, it was raining cats and dogs.

What intense pleasure and gratitude I felt, sitting in the dry camper with the rain pounding on the roof, knowing that my bike and shoes were dry and would be dry in the morning. Piehls had no wireless internet access, but the campground manager showed up later, refused to charge us when she learned we were riding for charity, and then offered to let me use her computer. The landscape may be boring, but the people in Minnesota are pretty great. The rain ended and there was a gorgeous sunset. As night fell, we watched a flock of turkeys calmly pecking at the edge of the cornfield next to the camper.

Day 44: Wells to Spring Lake, MN

We started early and had ridden perhaps 40 miles before Jim let out a whoop and circled back. “I found more money!”, he said. Looking closer, he found that it was only a spent, rolled up lottery ticket. That was about the most interesting thing that happened before noon. We rolled right through Albert Lea with only the briefest of bathroom breaks, and continued until we reached Austin, which as everyone knows is the home of Spam.

The Spam Museum is next to the Hormel Corporation’s headquarters. It’s free, and no expense has been spared. A wall of more than 3,000 cans of Spam encircling a spinning globe dominates the entrance. The Hormel people are well aware of their brand’s kitschy image and the many jokes that surround it, and the museum is a weird attempt to share in that self-deprecating humor while also shoveling vast quantities of corporate propaganda. I learned that Spam became a global product thanks to a massive procurement contract from the Defense Department during World War II, and I saw decades of print and television ads the company created to pound Spam into all of our heads. Spam has its own website now and yes, Hormel says, they are aware of the irony in this. The one true moment of genius in the museum is Monty Python’s sketch about ordering spam in the Green Midget Diner. This shows on demand in a scale model of the diner itself. Otherwise, the museum was kind of slick and creepy.

We spent an hour at the museum and another hour finding a milkshake, then rode off for another 30 miles through the cornfields. Wind turbines in cornfields are not surprising to us at this point, but this afternoon we saw hundreds of them. The fields were crowded with them, mile upon mile. Why? We saw an office for Horizon Wind Energy in Grand Meadow and stopped to ask. “This area has a lot of wind,” said Kevin Clark, a manager there. “It also has good access to transmission lines, and it is near Rochester and Minneapolis-St. Paul, which are reliable customers. You really need all three things to put up a lot of wind turbines.”

Horizon owns 61 turbines south of Highway 16 between Austin and Spring Lake. Two other companies also have large wind farms nearby. Wells said that Horizon’s turbines could power maybe 100,000 homes when they were running at peak capacity, but that they’d average enough power to supply about 35,000 homes.

The turbines are 400 feet high from the base to the tip of the blade. That is quite an intrusion in some landscapes, but out in Minnesota, where there isn’t anything else to see except corn, I think they’re beutiful. They look like good news.

We rode a few more miles to a campground outside of the small town of Spring Lake, about 30 miles south of Rochester.  It wasn’t much of a campground, but we didn’t have much choice, either.

5. Iowa & Minnesota Bicycling Across The USA

Day 45: Spring Lake to Houston, MN

We left the campground at 8:30 am after an unpleasant, interrupted night. The campground was near a truck route and a highway intersection, so we heard air brakes and diesel throttles all night long. There were even dogs barking in the background. It was 25 miles on a state highway to Preston, where we would pick up the Root Valley Bike Trail, and I was hardly awake when we started. Within a mile, though, the familiar rhythm of pedaling had driven enough oxygenated blood to my brain to lift the clouds.

Jim and I had been having a small dispute about who was the better bowler. He said he was pretty good, and had even come close to bowling a perfect game once. I said it was impossible to beat me. We were both thinking this over when we rode into Preston, a small town where we planned to pick up the Root Valley Bike Trail. On one side of the highway was a large fiberglass trout. As I photographed it, I noticed that on the other side was a small bowling alley. Game on. We tried to settle it right then and there, but it was too early in the morning and they couldn’t open the lanes.

The Root River is a shallow, clear stream with a silt bottom. Its valley has carved small, pretty limestone bluffs that offer some elevation change, which is a big deal in Minnesota. The trail is over 40 miles long and is paved throughout, with handsome bridges every so often and occasional stops in small towns that range from completely tarted up to recently rebuilt. It was our first day of cycling through

deciduous woods, after weeks of ranchland and cultivated fields, and the weather was beautiful. The woods looked similar to the Finger Lakes, and it was surprising to see how fast the leaves had turned. It was warm and sunny, and we reveled in the smell and crunch of dry leaves under our tires. It was especially fine to have no cars in sight. It felt like a day off.
We met lots of attractive retired couples riding tandem recumbent bicycles they had rented in Lanesboro. The bikes took up almost the whole eight-foot strip of pavement. Jim and I zipped past them like bike-path pirates, pumping away. Golden light was reflected through the leaves. It felt like we were crashing a commercial for erectile disfunction pills. As I crept up on the unsuspecting 60-ish couples, I had this thought: when the moment arrives, will you be ready?

We stopped for lunch in Lanesboro. The counter man told us that in 1980 you could have bought the entire town for $25,000. Today it has been completely resuscitated, thanks to the bike path and the discretionary spending of southern Minnesota’s retirees. I found a German deli and had an excellent braunschweiger sandwich with onions, mayo, and homemade mustard on German rye, along with coleslaw and homemade root beer. Back on the road, we scattered a pack of blue-shirted retirees who were happily chugging away on mountain bikes. Their shirts identified them as the “health angels.” One of the guys almost rode into us before he veered to the side. “Sorry,” said an older woman. “I didn’t yell at him.”

“Only in Minnesota would people actually wear shirts like that,” said Jim.

After an hour, we stopped in Peterson so that Jim could get a milkshake at Judy’s Café. I didn’t need anything, so I hung out near the front door and read the items posted there. I saw this poem and photo:
“On the 6th of March in two thousand seven,
The table of knowledge met,
With Bertram, Percy, Allen and Joe,
The big problems were no sweat,
Of course we met at Judy’s café,
A super good place to eat,
We had coffee, cookies, a short stack and eggs,
The food here just can’t be beat.”

The photo of the Table of Knowledge was perfect. If you looked up “small town diner” in the dictionary, this photo would probably be next to the definition.

Jim and I needed to settle our dispute, so after another picturesque half-hour of riding we pulled into the gleaming new Nordic Lanes in Rushford to bowl one game. I went first, and neither of us did well. I got a spare in the fifth and nine on my first roll in the sixth, and it looked as if my boast would come true. At the end of six frames, I had a whopping 62 to Jim’s 41. But Jim came roaring back with a strike in the seventh, and in the eighth frame I fell apart with a gutter ball and just one pin on my second roll. In the ninth and tenth frames I put the ball solidly in the pocket, and each time all the pins went down but one, which wobbled but stood. Some days you just don’t get the breaks. Final score: Jim 116, Brad 99. Until we meet again, Kersting.

Jim Kitchens, the owner of Nordic Lanes, explained that the building was new because the entire town of Rushford was submerged in August 2007. The area received 17 inches of rain over a weekend, and a usually tiny side creek flooded the town. About 370 buildings were damaged; many were completely destroyed. The town has been more or less completely rebuilt, thanks to a state flood relief bill. Jim Kitchens got a new bowling alley and restaurant, and he says that when al is said and done he will need to pay the state about $50,000. “It’s a different place, but business is back to where it was before the flood,” he said. We congratulated him, gathered up our things, and pushed on.

We saw an eastern hog-nosed snake sunning itself on the asphalt. When it sensed us, it raised its head up like a cobra; very impressive. A few miles down the road, Jim said, “Hey, isn’t that the bowling alley guy?” It was. “This is going to sound crazy,” he said, “but I think one of you took my wallet.” It was my mistake. Jim Kitchen’s wallet and mine were exact look-alikes, and I had put both of them in my bike bag. I melted into a grease spot with embarrassment and was preparing to get yelled at or punched, but he was Minnesota Nice about it to the core. “I could tell you guys weren’t thieves,” he said. “Have a good ride.”

We rode into Houston and camped at a municipally owned nature nenter at the eastern terminus of the trail. It had a huge, spiffy bathroom with a shower like you’d find at the Hilton. It was unbelievable but true that the whole center was supported by donations from riders and volunteers in Houston, which has fewer than 1,000 residents. Sometimes Minnesotans are just too good to be believed. I slept in a large new bandshell that the Lions Club had just completed. There was a marsh nearby, and the rhythmic chants of frogs and cicadas quickly put me in a deep sleep. Tomorrow we cross the Mississippi.

5. Iowa & Minnesota 6. Wisconsin Bicycling Across The USA

Days 46, 47, & 48: Houston,MN to Manitowoc, WI

Day 46: Houston, MN to Elroy, WI

I woke up in the new bandshell built by the Lions Club of Houston, Minnesota. The city park in this tiny hamlet (pop. 1,000) is better than you’ll find in many towns of 50,000. It has a walk-in campground for people riding the Root River Trail. It has a nature center that specializes in owls. It has bathrooms that are new and sparkling clean, with the cleaning done by volunteers. It has the bandshell, which meant that I didn’t have to set up my tent. Best of all, it is surrounded by a protected wetland packed with birds that call and chatter at high volume as soon as the sun comes up. It was a real find.

We left about 8:30am and cycled east on a county road next to the Root River. Fog was hanging in the valley and on top of the corn, but overhead the sky was blue. We went past the Mound Valley State Wildlife Area (more chattering birds) and noticed that the landscape was flattening out, the marshes getting bigger. We were getting close to the Mississippi River. At the intersection with Route 16, we saw a puzzling display. A female mannequin was ironing, and a girl mannequin was hanging onto her leg. An American flag on a bent pole was planted nearby. On the other side of the display was a sign that read “See George at Kwik Fill Hokah.”

“Maybe George is looking for a wife,” said Jim.

“She’d better be patriotic,” I said.

We crossed the Mississippi on U.S. 16 at La Crescent, dodging traffic and broken pavement and tire-eating garbage. There were several miles of marshes and industrial sites before the actual bridge and shipping channel, which was lined with houseboats and barges. Then we were in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. All props to the cheese-heads: we saw our first party even before we got off the bridge. Lining a street next to the river were seven or eight marching bands tuning up. A big parade was about to start, and it was going right along our route! It was awfully nice of them to go to all this trouble, but how did they know we were coming?

We rode through the waiting Oktoberfest kick-off parade and then rode down the street in front of all the people who were waiting to see the marching bands. We saw men wearing leiderhosen and women in milkmaid dresses. We saw beauty queens primping and climbing onto thrones on gussied-up flatbed trucks. We waved, and some of them waved back. “We have to keep moving, or we will be here all weekend,” I told Jim. He didn’t want to go. He wanted to stop and chat and have a beer at ten in the morning, and I knew that if he did he might wake up thirty years later wondering what happened. We were missing a giant blow-out, but duty called. We rode on to a pretty riverside park and a giant statue of Hiawatha. Then the bike paths began.

Wisconsin turned out to be paradise for bicycle riders. LaCrosse’s Three Rivers Trail immediately took us out of city traffic and through linear parks all the way to the outskirts of town. We turned east on the LaCrosse River State Trail and rode it for 22 miles, then finished the day by riding the length of the 32-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail. It was an 80-mile day that felt like a vacation. The LaCrosse Trail is strung between an active rail line and Interstate 90, and we were entertained by scary Amtrak trains and freights barreling past on the other side of the ditch. It was hot, and our water bottles were nearing empty when we pulled into Sparta.

Sparta advertises itself as the Bicycling Capital of America because back in 1967, the abandoned railbed from Elroy to Sparta became the first “rail-trail” for hikers and cyclists. There are now thousands of miles of rail-trails in America. Governments pay for their development because this is a cheap way to preserve transportation corridors while pumping tourist dollars into rural areas. But the whole idea started here, and we watched a charming promotional movie made by locals in the late 1960s that featured two children lumbering along on single-speed bikes that looked like small tractors. Great oaks from tiny acorns grow.

Sparta’s tourism center lured us into the town because of the “Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum.” I grew up in Florida in the 1960s and the late Deke Slayton, an A-list astronaut, was one of my big heroes. It turns out that he was a Sparta native. Jim took my picture posing with a life-sized sculpture of Deke, and then I went upstairs. I asked the woman at the gift shop, “Did Deke Slayton like bicycles?”

“Not especially,” she said.

“So what is the connection between bicycles and space travel?” I asked, hopefully. “Is there some connection?”

She seemed puzzled by the question. “Just that they’re both here in Sparta,” she said.

Sparta is kind of eccentric, and the weirdest thing about it is the larger than life sized sculpture of “Ben Bikin” in the city park. Ben is a fictional 1900s character with a handlebar mustache. He is astride an old “boneshaker” big-wheeled bike. He is perhaps 25 feet tall. There is a hidden motion detector in the base of his statue, and when you approach he will suddenly shout “Hi! Welcome to Sparta!” and then tell you how great everything is here. It was startling, cheesy, and funny. It was the kind of moment you live for.

The Elroy-Sparta line was the main rail route between St. Paul and Chicago in the early part of the 20th century. The nearby highway was also an old tourist route for automobiles, and the locals have carefully preserved a lot of the architecture and signs from 80 years ago. Western Wisconsin’s hills are glacial, meaning they are short but steep, so the line is distinguished by three tunnels so long that they require headlamps. Jim and I were as excited as children by the prospect of riding through these tunnels, which lived up to their spooky billing. Riding through them was an experience of total darkness on either side, the sound of dripping water, and a pinpoint of light in the far distance. We weren’t supposed to ride through them, but of course we did. We even made movies of each other riding through them. That is why we wear helmets. We’re idiots.

By the end of the third tunnel we were exhausted, and Jim had a slow leak in his front tire. My wife Tania had flown out for the weekend, cashing in the rest of her frequent flyer miles, and she had found a motel for us that was clean and comfy and quiet. Seeing her at the end of a day like this made it all feel just about perfect.

Jim and Sara stayed at a campground; Tania and I went into Elroy, a charming village that city people have not discovered yet. We found a diner along main street that was serving dinner. It was Friday, everyone was having the fish fry, and the place was packed. Then we went back to the room and watched Barack Obama debate John McCain. That doesn’t sound very romantic, I know, but we made it work.

Day 47: Elroy to Green Lake, WI

Tania and I met Sara and Jim at a coffee shop on Elroy’s main street. We set off around 9:30 am on Saturday, September 27. We were on county roads and were headed to Green Lake, where we had been told there was a “harvest festival” and a parade scheduled for 4pm. We had about 80 miles to go, but it remained warm and sunny, and there was a slight tailwind. This and the parade deadline kept us pumping along at top speed all day. We averaged more than 15 miles an hour and did the mileage in a bit over 5 hours in the saddle, with 90 minutes of rest. It was our fastest ride ever.

Wisconsin’s county roads are all paved, so there are dozens of low-traffic ways to get from one small town to another. We cycled through hills and dales that looked like the glaciers had missed them, pausing briefly when a bird or a snake or a notable barn caught someone’s attention. We spent several hours pedaling in a pleasant but uneventful way, until out of nowhere a handsome art deco stone-and-steel sign for the Oxford Federal Correctional Institute came up on our left. We stopped to admire the careful landscaping and big close-cropped lawn around the sign. Then we noticed two little girls who had come out of a house trailer across the street. They sat cross-legged on the lawn and faced us, while a man who looked like their father stood behind them on the stoop.

Jim fell into a conversation with the man, as he always does, and the girls lobbed questions at us simultaneously without waiting for the men to stop talking. Jim wanted to know about the prison. The man wanted to know about our route and what we’d seen. The girls wanted to know whether we always wore our helmets and whether either of us had been hit by a car yet. I told them yes and no, and that they should always wear their helmets too. Jim said entertaining things to the man, and in return he found out that it was a minimum security prison “for crooked judges and Congressmen.” This might be why we saw several European sports cars turning into the gate, and also why I heard a sound from behind the hedge that sounded an awful lot like people playing tennis.

“They got it real nice in there,” said the man. “They got sports and a swimming pool. On Memorial Day they even had a live band. They got it better than we do out here.”

Riding as hard as we were did not give us much time to stop and check things out, but I did hear and see evidence that Wisconsin is the undisputed alcohol and cholesterol capital of the country. “You have no idea,” said the woman who served us breakfast. “If you want to know, go down to the Sportsman’s Bar tomorrow, get an Old Style and some deep-fried cheese curds, and stay until kickoff. You’ll see some stuff, for sure.” I had to take her word for it, which pained me greatly. But I did see that every little hamlet had a beat-up plastic sign for Grain Belt or Old Style or Blatz or Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer hanging in front of an equally beat-up building, and there were usually lots of beat-up cars parked out in front. We also rode past two American Legion Brat Fry fundraisers. That’s bratwurst for the noviates, or mildly spicy German sausage on a roll. It tastes way too good for your own good. We ate a lot of brats on the ride. They were cheap, easy to cook, and very tasty. When I got back home, I found to my horror that my total cholesterol number had actually increased.

It might sound improbable that a milkshake is the best thing to order for lunch while you’re on a long ride, but we had been told this by several athletes and we were happy to believe it. In fact, I became convinced that this was the real reason Jim rode across the country. Tipped off by Tania, who was buzzing around us all day in an electric blue rental car, we stopped in Westfield and got two excellent shakes at a candy store that also sold wooden replicas of guns and swords for the kids to play with. These were the kind of things that get kids shot by cops in the Bronx, but in Wisconsin they’re just cute. Lawn signs for John McCain outnumbered Obama signs in this town by about three to one.

A milkshake hits a touring cyclist’s system like a tank of high-octane fuel. It and the tailwind and the 4pm parade deadline juiced our legs and we screamed through the last 20 miles of the trip in an hour. The nice motel room Tania had picked out might have had something to do with it, too.

Green Lake is an affluent resort town that still retains its Wisconsin party flavor. We got to town just as the parade was starting. It was a sublime and wonderful spectacle, and totally free of irony. A tractor pulled small children who were piloting hollowed-out barrels that had been painted to look like airplanes. A delighted boy rode a real camel that announced the first contingent of Fez-topped Shriners on tiny motorcycles. A float for John McCain floated by and everyone ignored it. Tania got her picture taken with a walking ice cream cone advertising Culvers’ famous “butter burgers.” The young woman inside the cone explained that these are, indeed, buttered hamburgers (see cholesterol comment above). There were also lots of fire trucks with flashing lights and dump trucks that blasted their air horns, scaring everybody. But the highlight of the parade, for me at least, was the second contingent of Shriners, who sped around in circles inside tiny cars.

What a mystery Shriners are. Why do they wear hats from Morocco? They have so many different symbols on their hats. What do they all mean? And who got the idea of stuffing these huge men into go-carts? After I made the blog post, Diane Ihle answered these questions by writing, “What’s the mystery? Men never grow up!”

Tania and I retired to the Bay View Motel after the parade. It was also a find. It seemed to be built in the early 1960s and it retained the original Swedish blond wood paneling, pink and green tiled bathroom, and oversized shower. It also had a lawn next to the lake, where Jim and Sara joined us for happy hour. We went to a jammed restaurant and made to bed by 10 pm, which was about an hour too late for us old folks.

Day 48: Green Lake to Manitowoc

We set off for Manitowoc on Sunday around 10:00 am after saying goodbye to Tania, who had to get back to Ithaca. We had another 80 miles to go before our destination. Manitowoc is about 90 miles north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. It is where you board the S.S. Badger, the ferryboat we used to get to the next state while avoiding Chicago’s sprawl.
The weather had turned overnight, so we set off under gray skies, a north wind, and temperatures struggling to hit 60 degrees. We pushed to reach 13 miles an hour against crosswinds and headwinds, and had a lot less fun. The first 20 miles were on busy highways with bad pavement and no shoulder. Then Jim, whose route planning skills never fail to amaze me, found a bike path that would take us through Fond Du Lac. This got us off the roads for several hours. He couldn’t get rid of the wind, however.
The traffic thinned out north of Fond Du Lac, and the last 50 miles of the ride was an uneventful slog through county roads that would have been beautiful had we not been cold and exhausted. I only collected a few things to report. First, this was Amish country. Several times we met or rode past black horse-drawn carts heading home from church, or to
Sunday supper. Hands waved back to us from behind tinted glass, and then they were gone. Second, in the tiny hamlet of St. Anna we rode past the Scrubs Tavern. The parking lot was full of cars, so many of them that it seemed everybody from miles around had to have been there. A roar came from inside the bar. The Packers were playing.

We rode east to the Manitowoc County line through big dairy farms that smelled like poop. One farmer made a joke about it (see photos). We crossed Interstate 43 and suddenly there was Lake Michigan, and it was impossible not to think that it looked exactly like the sea. We turned north on the lakeshore and started on the last leg to Manitowoc. We almost made it, but in the overcast the light started fading around 6pm and Jim called Sara for relief. The truck showed up about ten miles south of our destination. We drove to the home of Bill Yust’s brother-in-law Michael Retzinger, his wife Amy Tiesol, and their daughter Ceci. Michael and Amy made us more than welcome, and nothing could have kept me awake after 10pm. It had been six hard days in a row. Tomorrow is a day for rest and adventure, including a four-hour ferry ride across the lake.

3. Wyoming 5. Iowa & Minnesota 8. New York Bicycling Across The USA

Day 61: Medina to Rochester, NY

We continued east on the Canalway Trail with 45 miles in front of us. Our destination was a party in Genesee River Park in Rochester, where friends from the Land Trust would gather to say hello and look at our legs. One of Medina’s notable characteristics is a 12-foot sculpture of an apple next to the canal. Another is that it is the home town of George Kennan, architect of the Cold War. It was also home to Frances Folsom, who became the bride of President Grover Cleveland at the age of 21. Cleveland was a friend of the family. He had known Frances since she was born, and was 27 years her senior.

Medina is also the place where the Oak Orchard Creek gorge crosses the canal. This engineering feat required a massive amount of concrete, and the waterway follows a curving aqueduct with the creek and its waterfall flowing underneath it.

In Albion, ten miles down the road, we reunited with Bill Yust and became a foursome. Bill’s wife Valerie dropped him off, and Sara plied us with local pears and peaches during a short rest stop. We had to pedal steadily to make the party at 3pm, so there wasn’t much time to stop and take pictures. We arrived roughly on time and met Roger Hopkins (who made the Google Earth program of our ride), Burch and Louise Craig, John DeHority, Donna Pacelli, Henry McCartney, and about two dozen others whose names I am too flaky to recall right now. Betsy Landre, the Land Trust staffer who organized the shindig, took a great photo of the group.

We continued the ride with a few friends to Pittsford, where Jim and Sara left to spend the night at Sybil Craig’s house while Tania and I went to the home of Bill and Valerie Yust. On Sunday our destination is a second party for the eastern half of the Land Trust at Montezuma, followed by three days of rest at home.