Day 42–Port Huron to London, Ontario: Oh, Canada!

Today we rode 87 miles from Port Huron to London, Ontario. The ride had almost no climbing (900 feet, a big chunk of which were probably on the bridge into Canada). We have been extremely lucky with the weather the past two days: nightime/morning rain cleared for our ride yesterday, it poured again last night, and this morning the weather was perfect again. It rained again after we got into the hotel this afternoon, so it is almost as if mother nature is giving us windows to ride in every day. We had some headwind today, but all in all, it was a great day to ride.

Crossing the Blue Water Bridge into Canada was one of the most fun parts of the entire trip. America By Bicycle had pre-cleared us with customs and the bridge toll booth checkpoints. They traditionally have closed one lane to allow the biking group to cross, but since the bridge was under repair and one lane was already closed, they shut down the entire bridge for our benefit! We had to get up early for this and be loaded by 6am, then lined up in the parking lot to set off in a mass group at 6:25am. The bridge heads toward the east, the sun was rising directly in front of us and everything was majestically quiet as the 50 of us passed over the bridge. It was awesome. We were not allowed to stop and take pictures, so I am hoping that someone with helmet camera will have some footage.

The ride in rural Canada was more scenic than the past few days in Michigan. Vast farm fields returned to the horizon. The roads had no paved shoulder, which is bad, and traffic signs said “Max 90kmh” in many sections. But traffic was light, and Canadian drivers very considerate in passing. No gunning acceleration, no curses etc. I felt like I was in a different country…

I was struck by the number of signs posted against wind power. In addition to concerns about property values, some people blame noise from the turning blades for a variety of health problems including disrupted sleep, stress, headaches and nausea. On this ride we have passed hundreds of wind turbines, and I have heard nothing, and I don’t consider them a blight on the landscape. But, in any event, we did some some big solar fields out here today…

Lastly, realized that there is a department store with my mother’s maiden name, Bowring. Been in business since 1811. It’s Teddy’s middle name!

Not just another state, another country…

Solar field

Bowring department store

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Day 41: Birch Run to Port Huron: Opposite day (again)

Today we rode 89 miles from Birch Run to Port Huron. I was awakened at about 4am to the sound of violent thunderstorms, and it was still storming at our scheduled departure of 7am. We will ride in rain, but not thunderstorms. And we have not have any rain at all since the end of the first week in Oregon. So, this seemed to be like the day we were going to get soaked in retribution. After a 2 hour plus delay, we got rolling about 9:15am, with a light sprinkle and very wet roads kicking up lots of spray. And then viola, there was no more rain and we had a strong tailwind coming from the Southwest that propelled us along for everything but about 10 of the 89 miles. Wonderfully delightful day. And, again, an “opposite” day: When we rolled out this morning I had visions of riding in the rain and possible headwinds like yesterday. Instead, it was easy rolling in cool, dry temperatures. You never can really tell until you are on the bike…

I rode most of the way with two awesome woman from Colorado who have become great friends on the ride–one of the ladies, Polly, was celebrating her 62nd birthday. She is a fantastic rider and a great conversationalist while riding a bike… The route through the rest of this part of Michigan continued to be pleasant, if not the best scenery that we have had on the trip. We had a rest stop in the town of Yale, reputed to be the bologna capital of America. And a passer by who was curious about the ride started talking about his own adventures on a bike and said that the farthest that he had ever gone was up to Bad Axe with his brother. I had to laugh as the only other time I had ever heard of Bad Axe was from my sister-in-law, who grew up there. I hardly ever think of Bad Axe as being “on the map.” But lo, it exists!

Tomorrow we need our passport to ride, as we cross the bridge into Canada…

No way to get lost…

Canada is just a short swim away…

Day 40–Mount Pleasant to Birch Run

Today was 75 miles from Mount Pleasant to Birch Run. It was billed as the easiest day yet, with only 260 feet of vertical climbing and a net descent over the course. But, as stated before, what’s hard sometimes turns out to be relatively easy and vice versa. Today was exactly that in the sense that the wind blew hard in our fast from the east, and many sections of the ride went directly east. It was worst at the beginning, as there were more open fields, so the wind was unchecked. By the time I reached the first SAG at mile 28 I dreaded the idea of going another 50 miles like that. I found a group to ride the rest of the way in a paceline, and combined with the fact that the landscape had fewer fields and had more trees in the last half, and several legs veered toward the south, it was all pretty good after that.

It was a bit disconcerting to have the only SAG at mile 28, and none after that. The reason for that is that a few years ago leader Mike stopped to take a picture of an old tractor and struck up a conversation with the farmer residing there, and an annual rite to stop at the farm was begun. Sadly, the farmer died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) two years ago, but his wife looks forward every year to having the bikers back, so we made the stop and enjoyed her company…

The landscape in Michigan is pleasant and flat. Not super exciting though. Farm fields are sprinkled along the way, but the rest is just trees and stuff. Tomorrow is last ride in Michigan…

Red Barn Motif #1

Red Barn Motif #2

Day 39–Ludington to Mount Pleasant: Hungover from the ferry…

Today we rode 112 miles from Ludington to Mount Pleasant. This was our last century ride of the trip. After this the mileages are mostly in the 70-80 range. And although I have been pretty consistent in thinking that 80 miles or so is “just right” for a daily mileage, I feel kind of remorseful that no huge challenge days lie ahead…

The ride itself was not that difficult. What everybody shared in common was fatigue from the yesterday’s ferry ride. Almost universally, everybody was more tired and cranky this morning than if we had biked 100 miles yesterday. I was literally stumbling to breakfast (i.e. walking down hotel corridor in a non straight line) like I was hungover, and it was noticed by a couple of people coming up behind me. But once on the bike I was OK. And the heat broke overnight, so the temperature was mid 70s behind some clouds all day. Perfect.

In any event, one good thing came from waiting on the dock yesterday: there was a reporter there to do a story on us. The story and a video (which includes an interview with me) is attached:

http://www.htrnews.com/article/20120724/MAN0101/307240060/Bikers-take-shortcut-3-667-mile-ride-video-?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CMAN-News&nclick_check=1

Day 38–Manitowoc to Ludington, MI

Today was the ferry ride across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc to Ludington Michigan. This was billed as a rest day, but it was really anything but. We had to load luggage at 10am at the hotel for a 2pm ferry that was 3 miles away. We sat by the dock in sweltering humid heat. The ferry left an hour late. It is four hour ferry ride with time zone change, so we really did not get to hotel (hungry) until about 9pm. And we are riding 113 miles tomorrow…

Ferry is coal burning and environmental disaster. It has operated on waivers for a number of years and will be converted to LPG at the end of this year. It appeared to be operated by Mennonites. Not sure how that all makes sense…

Coal burning ferry

Lighthouse at ferry dock, Ludington, MI

Another state and EDT!

Day 37–Fond du Lac to Manitowoc: Another state (and riders) down…

Today was an easy 58 mile ride from Fond du Lac to Manitowoc. We are on the shores of Lake Michigan. Tomorrow we take the ferry across the lake to Michigan. That will put me in the eastern time zone! We are closing in on New Hampshire, the finish is only two weeks from tomorrow…

Wisconsin has turned out to be a delightful place to cycle. There was the famous Elroy Sparta bike trail. The country roads rolled through very gentle hills with almost no traffic. The farms sprinkling the roadside were postcard perfect, and many were cheese producing (Wisconsin produces more than 35 percent of all cheese made in US). In general, the green farmland everywhere was immensely soothing, especially since I rode most of the time alone. One thing I have not mentioned about all this corn (and probably soybean) is that it is genetically modified. The stalks are planted inches apart. And there are signs everywhere for the seed, and most don’t sound the least bit organic. Not sure I know enough to opine on all that, but somehow was a bit disconcerting…

I am feeling very strong on the bike these days. It’s clear that this much riding has definitely made me stronger. And amazingly, the bike feels really good. I don’t have any saddle sores: I guess you toughen up. My neck doesn’t feel stiff at the end of a ride. I feel very comfortable just being on the bike. As is true with many endurance sports when your conditioning hits a certain point, the training feels good. I’m in that zone, but probably shouldn’t say much since tomorrow something might go wrong.

Speaking of which, we had a big crash today. Six riders in a paceline went down. The front two riders had wheels overlap. When wheels touch, the outcome is nearly irreversible (the best riders might know how to handle it, but it’s not something you can practice). And once a front rider goes down, so goes the rest of the group. Luckily, there was only some mangled bicycle parts and road rash. No broken bones or injuries resulting in anyone needing to stop the ride. So, count ’em, we have had four crashes so far: Mike, who went into a pole the second day (and is fully recovered); Tom, who crashed on Teton pass (broken pelvis and gone home); Ray, broken shoulder (gone home), and these six riders who are still with us. The one thing they have in common is that they don’t involve any vehicles. Just rider errors, which is the most common cause of biker accidents. Kind of makes you feel better about worrying about cars?

Sign for seed/fertilizer for genetically modified crops

Day 36–Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac: T shirt contest with 2 epilogues….

Today was an 84 mile ride from Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac. It’s getting repetitive to say that each day in the past few has been nearly perfect, yet this was another. Weather was mid 70s and cloudy. No wind. I rode mostly alone as I was moving along pretty fast. My average pace for the day was a bit over 20 mph, which is probably a PB for a non wind, non paceline speed of over 80 miles. And I wasn’t really hammering it. It just felt good.

The most interesting part of the day was a T-shirt swap at dinner. Rules are that you put a T-shirt into the pool, explaining its significance, then each person, having drawn a number to establish order, pulls out the shirt that they want most. So, of course, I had to put a Freedom to Marry T-shirt into the pool to see what would happen. It may sound obvious, but I had never spoken to group about the heart and home symbols on the shirt and how marriage equality advocates simply wanted those ideals to be available to all loving couples. The shirt was chosen by “crazy Al” (also know as “Boston Al”), the guy that has jumped into every river and lake that we have passed so far on the trip. The guy that has slept in a haystack twice so far. That’s right, in order to “get closer” to the nature, he left the hotel a couple of nights and went down the road a piece, found two round hay bales side by side and slept in the crack in between. We all think he is a bit crazy, but his joie de vivre is infectious and funny. Al told me the first night of the ride in Astoria, Oregon that his son is gay. His fatherly support to his son (who only came out to him a few months ago) was summed up with “congrats, now you know who you really are and what you want. Go for it.” So, when Al picked my T-shirt I was delighted…

Chapter II of this story continued at the bar thereafter. We have a short day tomorrow and people were happy to have a few beers. You see, the rules of the contest also allow the next person to take a shirt not only from the pile, but from any person who has already chosen a shirt. My shirt was not “passed around” this way, and though it didn’t really bother me, what was funny was that several people at the bar said that they wanted to take the shirt from Al, but knew that it was significant to him, so they let him keep it. That made me feel great. I think I need some extra shirts to pass around…

Chapter III of the story continued at the bar….One guy from England who may have had a few extra beers pushed back hard on why I was 24/7 wearing the jerseys and T-shirts. He seemed to think that I had gone a bit overboard with the whole thing and needed to “give it a rest.” I think he thought he was being funny… But what made this part of the story really cool was the fact that others in the group jumped in to try and explain why the issue is important. The fact that legally married same sex couples in NY state, e.g., can’t file federal tax returns jointly. Or that married same sex federal government employees, including military don’t enjoy pension or survivor benefits. That many people in this country don’t live in states that permit same sex marriage and therefore can’t address issues like medical proxy without cumbersome paperwork. I chimed in a bit, but fortunately others made sure this guy understood why it is an issue and why they were totally OK with my unceasing efforts to meet and talk to people in the group or others I meet along the way about the issue…

I was a bit emotionally charged up after it was all over, but I kind of relished the engagement. Not just polite conversation but after more than a month with these riders getting a bit deeper into peoples thoughts on the topic. So, all in all, a great day…

Crazy Al

Day 35–La Crosse to Wisconsin Dells: There’s light at the end of the tunnel

Today we rode 90 miles from La Crosse to Wisconsin Dells. Another pretty awesome day. But what distinguished this day from others was a 34 mile ride on the Elroy Sparta trail. Sparta advertises itself as the Bicycle Capital of America–sounds a bit audacious, but lots of cyclists do flock here. The Elroy Sparta Trail is a hard packed limestone surface, i.e. not paved, and OK for road bikes but not as fast to cycle on as a road. But compensating for that is that it was basically flat (or no more grade than 3%) since it was once a rail bed. And the main “attraction” were the tunnels that were built for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in the 1870s. There were three of them ranging from about 1,000 feet to the longest which about 3,800 feet in length. They were pitch dark, and we had to walk them and carry a flash light. The first of them dripped water from the ceiling notwithstanding the fact that it has been dry around here. Sort of cool and sort of “why would anybody want to do this?”

The trail, though, was advertised as the first of Rails to Trails in America, and opened in 1965. In many areas, it made its way through a canopy of trees that provided shade and cool temperatures. When the path wasn’t surrounded with trees, we would break out into beautiful farmland nestled into a backdrop of large rolling tree covered hills…all in all, very pleasant and visually stimulating.

We got a lecture tonight at dinner on being mentally tough at this point. We have ridden two back to back centuries and two back to back 90 mile days. About 380 miles in 4 days. I actually feel great–I think, but what we are all a bit frayed and easily able to get annoyed by the grind of checking in and out of hotels, washing clothes in the sink or queuing up at the available laundry machines, eating barely tolerable meals, having to deal with 50 people descending on a breakfast room of about 20’x20′ at 6am all seeking to eat in 15 minutes or less, not having rooms ready when we get to hotels, and in general, tolerating each other’s “foibles.” Mike feels somewhat complicit in this since he has been cranky since breaking his ankle, and in military style (he is retired air force), he reminded us that being aggressive like that is not good for the image of the group, nor is it likely to keep us safe on the roads…Good points I guess, but when I walked into Denny’s tonight at 6pm (dinner was from 5-7pm), and was told that they were too busy to seat us given the earlier arrivals (Denny’s is not exactly a highbrow restaurant–it’s a chain and a step down from like Applebee’s, right?), I wanted to strangle the hostess! I did figure out a way to “beat” the system on beer at places like this. 1. Go to gas station and buy beer. 2. Pour beer into water bottles from the bike. 3. Walk into Denny’s sipping from water bottle… Like a pacifier for me….

(p.s. Day 34 photos should be posted as well…)

Sparta–bike capital of America

Elroy Sparta Rail Trail

I have finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel…

Farmer in the Dells

Day 34–Rochester to La Crosse Wisconsin: Epic Ride

Today we biked 90 miles and climbed about 2950 feet from Rochester to La Crosse Wisconsin–a new state in 3 days! I think that today was my favorite riding day of the trip so far. An epic ride… Yes, there have been days that we saw scenery that I was dying to see like the Tetons and Mount Rushmore, but I’m referring strictly to the ride itself. There have been some days that were in contention for “best,” but those rides may have started out great, then some combination of heat, wind and hills made me just want to get off the bike really bad by the end. Today was a nearly perfect 90 mile day. We started out with cloudy skies and a temperature of around 72 degrees. The dew point must have been right around there as well, as the air was wet and misty over the fields. It felt good, almost like a September day back in the east. Here’s the ingredients that made it awesome: 1) We rode along several ridge lines that provided views over lush green rolling hills. The scenery of planted crops in rolling hills high above the village below was spectacular. 2) Once out of Rochester, traffic was low, and the road/pavement condition was good all day. 3) We had a bike path from miles 50-63. Minnesota has many bike paths–not short multi purpose paths around big cites, but actual paths that are principally used by bicyclists and go for miles. 4) There was a pleasant coffee shop at the end of the path with awesome blueberry cheese croissants. The vibe was like country Vermont. They had hummus! And greek yogurt! I ate neither, but it felt like “civilization” to have proprietors serve this stuff… 5) I rode down some steep hills without freaking out. 6) I rode some parts with other riders but did not need a pace line, and so rode some parts alone just to enjoy the scenery by myself. 7) I felt strong climbing the hills. 8) We crossed into Wisconsin and over the Mississippi River. We are in the east! 9) It never got hot and sunny. In short, all good!

As I climbed the biggest hill of the day at mile 71, two recumbent bikers were in front of me. Those two riders had skipped the second SAG in fear that they would need the extra time to climb the hill. I haven’t mentioned that we have a couple of riders doing the ride on recumbents. Now, we are all very polite about this, but I have to admit that over a month into it, I still find it hard to “admire” recumbents. There is something elegant about the triangular form of an upright bike and something athletic about the rider perched upon it. And all that is lost with the recumbent. Recumbents are perched with feet seemingly kicking in the air. Not sure how to describe that, but it looks like someone trying to defend themselves from an attack. They are potentially as fast/faster downhill (longer wheelbase is stable), they can be pedaled nearly as fast on flats, but they are very slow uphill, since you need the power to stand etc to climb. They are unwieldy, and can’t negotiate tight spaces. I think I would actually feel trapped on a recumbent, as I like to stand up just to stretch when I am riding and move around in multiple positions on the saddle. But I think both riders are on recumbents to adapt to back/spine issues, so this is not as if they are trying to assert the superiority of the contraption over the upright bike. I have to admire them for persevering like this for 3,700 miles!

Lastly, just learned that we lost a rider from the group today. A very colorful Brit from London. He was taking a picture on the aforementioned bike path while riding the bike, lost control and fell and broke his shoulder. He has already packed and left for the airport. After 3 or more weeks without incident, reminds us all not to get too complacent…

Another state!

Mississippi River!

Day 33–Mankato to Rochester

On paper, today did not look that much different than yesterday. Ten miles less distance, but with a bit more climbing (2350 total vertical feet). “Net/net”, that shouldn’t make that much difference, right? And since yesterday was relatively “easy,” how bad could today be? Well, the answer is remember that these days are not determined entirely on distance: have I mentioned wind, hills, and road conditions? I think today was the second hardest day of the ride yet (after ride into Casper). And with back to back centuries, I feel pretty wiped out tonight. The road was in horrible shape at many points with continual bumps, the wind was often in our face, and there were some “annoying” up an down vertical hills that were not welcome, especially given the heat. I finished just before the skies opened up with a thunderstorm…

Rochester is famous for being the home of the Mayo clinic. The Mayo Clinic is world famous for specializing in treating difficult cases. Patients are referred to Mayo Clinic from across the U.S. and the world, and it is known for its innovative treatments. It is distinguished by integrated care, and a strong research presence is evidenced by the fact that over 40% of its resources are devoted towards research (rather than just medical practice). It is a major employer and economic driver for Rochester and this part of Minnesota. Biking by the campus I was impressed by how big the complex is.

I caught up this evening at the hotel with an Allison’s first cousin, Bill Oehler, who lives here in Rochester. We hadn’t seen each other in more than 20 years, but it was fun to swap stories about our families. And, of course, I got to talk about the cause of my ride and get assurance from him that most people here seem opposed to the ballot amendment this fall. Yeah!

We went thru this anyway…