Manitowoc, Wisconsin: Five weeks into this transcontinental bike ride, in this town on the shores of Lake Michigan, we’re down to our last 1,000 miles. Tomorrow we cross Lake Michigan by ferry, then enter Michigan and the Eastern United States. It feels like we blew through the Mid West while it took four weeks to cycle across four Western states. Over the past week we crossed Minne-soggy and Wisconsin. This past week has been the most challenging, most rapid, and most moist of the entire journey, partly because of an unfriendly combination of inclement weather and an unwelcome illness.
It all started four days ago, as we departed Rochester, Minnesota in fierce rain showers. On that morning we had rain, strong headwinds, some decent hills, and bumpy road seams plus 90 miles to deal with. Had we been chased by hungry dogs that would have really have made this a dandy day. But rain or shine we pedal, and pedal we did.
The first 20 miles were utterly miserable in the cold rain. Eventually I acclimated to the wetness, but in the process a migraine headache materialized. My head felt like it could explode, and at times I wished it would. By noon the rain stopped but the headache didn’t. I bonked. In the town of Houston I took a two-hour nap at the “Its a Little Looney” cafe. The nap helped fortify me to complete the rest of that day’s soggy nine-hour ride, which involved a decent climb before crossing the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. It was very hard for me to concentrate during the day, and for the first time I considered the possibility I may not be able to complete the day’s ride. Somehow I was able to dig deep, real deep, for some inner strength to make it to La Crosse. When I got to the hotel I immediately crashed in bed to sleep off my woes. I felt more accomplishment in getting to La Crosse than I felt on any other day. As much as I would like to forget that washed out day, I think the vivid memories of the weather and migraine will linger for a long time.
Wisconsin is blessed with green, rolling farmland, and I have spent the past three days on quiet country roads getting to know this beautiful state — the multitude of dairy farms, the corn and soybean crops, the small family owned farms (each with a barn at usually two silos) every couple of miles. Every ten or fifteen miles there’s usually a small town and many homes with well-landscaped and maintained lawns to give some personality to the place. And the people have been most friendly, from the couple outside Wisconsin Dells that stood in their driveway and cheered us on, to the farmer who wished me a “helluva trip” when he learned we’re headed to New Hampshire.
In Wisconsin Dells I also had a visit from Joe and Susan O’Neil, who very kindly drove up from Chicago. Joe is the co-founder of A New Day Cambodia and both he and Susan spend a great deal of time supporting this charity. I have so much respect for their generosity and their efforts to help break the poverty cycle halfway around the world in Cambodia. Joe and Susan’s visit gave me a much-needed morale boost and it is much appreciated.
Heading into the Dells we cycled 34 miles on the Elroy Sparta Bike Trail, a converted former train path that is the nation’s first rail to trail. This car-free bike path, which was rather muddy after the preceeding day’s rain deluge, cuts through three lengthy tunnels and Amish country. It made for an interesting change of cycling terrain.
I also had to deal with a faulty odometer, which is significant because our navigational cues are mileage-based. On a typical day’s ride on back roads there may be 25 or 30 navigational turns. Eventually I wheeled into a bike shop in Fond du Lac to buy a new odometer. While mine was out of commission I cycled closely with Ohio John on one day, and Sandy and Mark on another.
I’ve also continued to eat my way across America…..including the home-made rhubarb pie a la mode at Sweet Thyme Cafe in the quaint town of Wilton, halfway between Elroy and Sparta….the bratwurst at the American Legion’s Brat Fry in Princeton….and the brownie dough Concrete Mixer custard at Culver’s in Manitowoc, which may make the shortlist in my quest to find the best ice cream (well, frozen yogurt also counts) in America:
Last night, after dinner and the renown America by Bike t-shirt swap, Mike, Don, Katie, Rod, Teresa, John, Matt & I headed to Walgreen’s (a drug store chain) to get our nightly ice cream fix. Nowadays, we buy it by the pint. In the t-shirt swap I ended up with a red shirt which says “Iowa Nerd” and sports a picture of a pig with glasses. I’m pretty confident I will be the only guy in Hong Kong with such a shirt. In the swap I contributed an Asian-sized AXN Beyond t-shirt, and after changing hands a few times it finally ended up with Alison. I am pretty confident she’ll be the only gal in Arkansas with such a shirt.
Yesterday in Ribon, Wisconsin, we passed the birthplace of the Republican Party. Mark stopped to show his respect.
I’ve spotted more pretty barns while cycling country roads but am still searching for the prettiest in America:
Today, between Fond du Lac and Manitwoc, we passed a wind farm — the largest I have seen yet in the US. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of old and new farming:
Also today, a Sunday, Rod and I stopped at a Catholic Church and cemetary in Marytown:
Day 32 route: Rochester, MN to La Crosse, WI
Days 32 mileage: 89.74 miles
Day 32 climbing: 2,850 feet
Terrain: rolling with heavy rain and migraine
Day 33 route: La Crosse to Wisconsin Dells, WI
Days 33 mileage: 90.5 miles
Day 33 climbing: 1,200 feet
Day 34 route: Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac, WI
Days 34 mileage: 83.2 miles
Day 34 climbing: 1,800 feet
Day 35 route: Fond du Lac to Manitowoc, WI
Days 35 mileage: 57.9 miles
Day 35 climbing: 1,350 feet
Cumulative mileage: 2,637.29 miles
Cumulative climbing: 78,400 feet