Final Route Map, SF, CA - Montauk, NY

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mile 3854.4 - A completely unstressful day

I started the day needing to recharge my phone. For a good 45 minutes I sat reading under a tree near the laundry room on the campground while the phone was plugged in. A sticky patch of tree sap I didn't notice sitting down made it harder to stand up.

I had breakfast, and as I was cleaning up a gray-haired woman walked up and asked if I had ridden my bike in. Thus I met Kathy, a hiker who had plenty of cycling experience. We talked about my trip and hers, comparing war stories of rain and wind, and we looked at the map to get the local roads recommendation. We ended up talking until early afternoon, but as I did not have very far to go today, I was glad for the company. We had walked to her campsite then came back to mine; I found that a squirrel had ripped up/apart/through the bag of trash I had left on the picnic table. It didn't touch the pannier full of food that lay open five feet away from the table, but it sure did destroy the bag of trash. I gathered it up and deposited the mess in the dumpster. As I was getting ready to leave Kathy offered me some cash, the first time that's happened on this trip. It was not expected, but certainly appreciated.

My goal for the day was another state park that I could camp in just outside of Canton. From there, tomorrow I would get into Canton, find a motel and a storage space for Penny, so Friday morning I could fly to the wedding in Boston. I had just over 50 miles to go, not a taxing day at all.

Not far out of camp, I got to mile 3800, about 700 miles left to go to get back to Brooklyn. The first town I came to, I stopped for lunch. I found the Farmer Boy Restaurant, sat down and ordered and again plugged in the phone. It can go through a lot of battery in one day. I had my lunch and getting up to leave, one of the three seniors sitting at the table behind me asked if I was a cyclist of just dressed like one. I had the attention of every diner in the smallish room as I told them about my journey. The old man laughed and said he was impressed that young people still challenge themselves like that. He wished me luck as I left.

The day was a bit warmer than yesterday, on the humid side with only a half-hearted breeze. The hills were starting to get more serious, the warnings about what awaited me across the next state line. This was emphasized when I got up almost to 40mph for the first time since the black hills.

Traffic was getting more suburban and in a couple of spots, the shoulder was less ample than I would have liked. I made it down to Portage State Park and started to ride around looking for the camping area. I found the boat ramp, the picnic area, the playground, the beach. No camping area. Finally I asked an old man who I believe was dumpster diving if he knew where I could camp. He gave me directions to the park with the campground, about 7 miles around on the other side of the lake. The hills here seemed steeper and longer than most of the ones before, but at least I found bike lanes around the northern end of the lake.

Here it was pretty obvious where the campsites were. But I wouldn't have gone to the western side of the lake if I had known the campground was on the east. Anyway, I found a site and was soon encamped and making myself dinner. Across from my site was one of two tall tepees that one could rent. There was no way to get Penny inside the door, so I didn't even consider it. But I did go back later and check it out. Surprisingly roomy.

Dinner was some polska kielbsa I had picked up at a gas station an hour earlier. I should have grabbed some bread too, because all that good grease was just going to go to waste. I soaked it all up with a piece of paper towel which I threw into the firepit. That gave me an idea. I gathered some of the dryer sticks laying around and set them up with the paper towel in the center. It was really surprising how well a single oil laden piece of paper towel keeps a flame. Next time I'll try it with newspaper and used cooking grease.

I sat at the table back at my site and was reading as the light started to fade. I looked up and saw a guy on a bike roll by clearly looking for a spot. I jumped onto Penny and was just getting to the roadway when he turned around. He said he had noticed that there wasn't a car at my site and wanted to know if I wanted to split the site with him. Sure! This site was $20 as it was, so I wouldn't mind making back half of that and getting to hang out with a cyclist.

Brett is a resident of Austin, TX, but was currently riding his bike from Rochester NY to Bloomington, IN. He told me about his various long-distance trips he had taken, and I told him about the joys and struggles of my journey. He slung up what was basically a covered hammock among some trees. I wondered how this piece of camping equipment would work in the plains. We ended up talking long after darkness had settled. The next day was going to be the easiest scheduled of my trip and I settled into a comfortable night's sleep.

Day 62, Findley SP, OH - Nimisila Campground, OH
56.4 miles in 4:17:11 for a total of 3854.4 in 290:53:52 and a high speed of 38.1

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mile 3798.1 - The flat starts to unflatten

I woke up to the sound of farm equipment plodding along in the distance. My tent hidden by sturdy green stalks of corn, somebody would have to be going no more than 10 miles an hour to see me from the road. I ate a quick breakfast from the bag because my goal for the day was over 100 miles away. I wanted to make it to Fidley State Park where I could camp for the night.

After half an hour's ride, I hit mile 3700, 288 hours and 16 minutes worth of saddle time since California. But there's still most of Ohio and all of Pennsylvania ahead of me. A few miles later I came into McComb which is best known for its largest employer, Consolidated Biscuit. The complex stretched along the western end of town and contained buildings capable of everything from processing the whole grain to packaging and shipping the finished products. They make all sorts of packaged cookies and crackers that you quite likely have one of their products in your pantry.

Further down the road I passed through the larger towns of Fostoria and Tiffin. It was soon early afternoon, so I took a longer break at the city park in Republic, watching a tee-ball team practice in a nearby diamond. Passing through small towns and fields, the land began to change. No longer was everything flat and straight, but there were now curves and angles involved too. At highway 61, I came to the first warning that there were mountains in my future. The hill climbed at a 8% pitch for most of a mile. As I took a break at the top, a guy in his car at the stop sign called over to me. He and a buddy had climbed the hill earlier that morning and had a hard time on their lightweight racing bikes. He wanted to know how I got up. I laughed and we talked about the trip for a couple minutes until another car came to a stop behind him.

Going through the town of Greenwich, I saw a truck loaded with furniture that had been backed up to a house. Two men on the back of the truck were handing chairs up to a teenage boy on the second floor balcony. I wanted to take a picture and stop to see how they dealt with the couch, but I didn't.

The hills were starting to get more frequent and there were starting to be more trees on the landscape again. As I was just coming into the foothills of the mountains ahead, the climbs were generally longer than the descents. After spending the warm day heading east I turned north for the last few miles, getting into the shade of the Findley State Park. I wound around to the campground and found a spot among the trees away from the campers and cars.

As dusk fell the trees lit up with dozens of fireflies. Assuming it's not the same group following me, I've probably seen 600-700 fireflies since Minnesota.

Day 61, Leipsic, OH - Findley State Park, OH
105.1 miles in 7:59:10. Now 3798.1 miles in 294:36:41 and a top speed of 28.2

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mile 4459.3 - Home

I know it is skipping ahead, but I did want to tell everyone that a few minutes before 7:00 last night, July 11th, I arrived safely at my front door. I of course went straight to the cat upon entering and he did not seem pleased to see me. Well, I did just abandon him for a very long time.

There is still the ride out to Montauk on Saturday to finish the tour. For now I'm working on mapping out the complete route which will take a while, writing up the two weeks of homework I'm behind on in the story, getting the rest of my photos up, and making peace with my cat.

It is good to be home. I kinda forgot that I had stuff because I got used to just what I had on the bike. I did a weigh in when I got home, Penny weighed 100lbs and had only a quart's weight of water on her, even though I would usually have two or more gallons of fluid along. I lost 18 pounds and probably would have lost a bit more if i didn't spend so much time off eating in the midwest.

Ok, I have homework to do

Mile 3693.0 - The easiest day

On the morning of day 60, I got to see the segment about my trip that had aired on the local Fort Wayne news the night before. The text of the segment can be found here:

I had spent about 8 minutes talking into the camera and a few more just talking to the reporter. It was pared down to a minute and the one quotation they used is not the one I would have ran with. But, I'm pleased whenever cycling makes the evening news and if it happens to be about me that's fine too.

I hung out with Ben, his stepson and infant daughter and their nanny long enough to get Chik-Fil-A with them. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten Jimmy Johns instead. Oh well. I ended up getting starting a little later than planned, but still early enough to get some serious miles in.

Ben lives just down the street from a golf course that Fort Wayne's River Greenway runs along. Apparently, they had just finished connecting the two long segments of it, and I was impressed. It was smooth and even, connected several parks and was being used. Cyclists, pedestrians with and without strollers and even a couple rollerbladers. I rode it all the way to the end, wishing it continued further. Monroesville? Decatur? You should consider it. Heck, you could follow the river all the way down to St. Marys, OH.

I swung north a few blocks then turned east again on Paulding St. Paulding is a big, important street for it's run through Fort Wayne. But then it crosses over US496 and it becomes less significant. Unpaved for a couple stretches even. I did hit my high speed of 27.1 coming down the 496 overpass. But the road is at least flat and straight without much traffic and I was enjoying a solid tailwind, so I kept up a constant speed around 19 mph on the paved portions. The wheat and corn fields suddenly gave way to a vast private collection of half buried pipes behind a barbed wire fence.

Curving a bit through this complex, I came suddenly to State Line Road. I pulled out my camera for the shot of the Welcome to Ohio sign. As I was lining it up, two cyclists came around the line of trees along the angle of Ohio 500 heading northeast towards Payne. The bikes were loaded, large panniers on front and back wheel under neon yellow rain covers and handlebar bags perched on the front. I held my ground in the entrance of the intersection (though out of the way of the couple cars that came along) and let them come to me. I found out that these were the lead cyclists from a group of 15 going from Maryland to Seattle. They were raising money for the UNC Lineburger Cancer Center and much of the group was 16 year old boys looking to become Eagle Scouts. Their website is and I suggest you check them out and support them if you can.

They were telling me that they were all riding the same model bike and everyone carrying different parts, so that if anything were to go awry on the road, they have the means to fix it. Other than the frame, they could basically assemble a full bike, which is kinda cool. But they confessed that maybe they should have chosen a better model as already they had had some mechanical issues. I bragged about how beastly Penny is. For a steel frame bike that was designed before I was born, she was comfortable and gives me very little trouble.

As I was talking with the front two, three more came around the corner. We talked for some time about the road ahead of them. I was impressed that they were going in such a large group, they were impressed that I was flying solo. Since they were only a couple weeks into it and I was a couple from the end, I told them what to expect from the states I had passed through as far as I could. As I write this from New York, they are just entering Minnesota. Good luck guys!

Standing there talking, the sun seemed to get hotter. They told me that I'd probably run into more of them as I got into Payne, and sure enough as I was coming out of a gas station with my 2 quarts of gatorade, four more of the group pulled up. We talked a few minutes and they complained about their headwind. Their headwind was my tailwind, and I wanted to get back into it before it decided to calm down.

I cruised along this land of straight lines and flat planes. Unlike the vast spaces between places in the west, the towns here are two to six miles apart, though really that's not a quite accurate picture. The towns were where the houses clumped closer together and there was a hardware shop/liquor store. But houses lined much of the road between the towns, and for a long while I felt like I was riding through the remaining farmland outside suburban Chicago. I had to remind myself that Bolingbrook was a couple hundred miles behind me, not three miles ahead.

I took a break at a closed down restaurant/ice cream parlor in Melrose. It at least offered me a bench out of the sun. I took the time to call my parents and tell them about my appearance on tv the night before. Getting up, I rode onward until Leipsic, where it was time for dinner. I came to the three block strip of downtown Leipsic and stopped to ask a larger, older man where in town to eat. 'Nowhere', he replied then pointed to the pizza place in front of us. 'But I'm going in here, it's the best of the lot'.

The pizza place was also a drive through liquor store. After I ordered I found my way to the bar in the back. The bartender had Pawn Stars on the tv and, after serving me, grabbed her dinner that had just come out of the oven and sat by me at the bar to eat. I told her about my trip and she talked about having owned her own pizza place for 12 years before walking away from it. Round turned into round, my pizza having appeared and disappeared, and soon the boys were coming in to watch wrestling on the big screen in the back. The bartender gave me advice on which road to pull down to camp, as that was my plan for the night. County road 5 was full of trucks, even throughout the night, but the next one down, county road 4 had only a few people living on it. Good to know.

The sun was starting to set, so I got back out onto highway 613. I stopped at the gas station at county road 5 to grab more water and gatorade for the morning. The cashier saw my helmet and asked how far I was going. Upon hearing about my trek, he asked if I was hungry and offered to make me a free sandwich. Sure, I'll take a free sandwich. Thanking him, I rode on to the next intersection, county road 4, and turned north along it. I went in maybe 2/3rds of a mile, passing two houses, but not yet coming to the next and I found the perfect spot.

There was a space where clearly two different fields lined up next to each other, though both were planted with corn. Across the street along the same line, a wheat and corn field met up. There was an unplanted gap that extended maybe 80 feet back into the rows of corn and was about 10 feet wide. The corn was tall enough to come over the top of the tent, so when it was pitched and the sun had set, there was no way that the few cars going along would see me. Even as I ate my free sandwich in the brightness of the full moon, I was hidden from the road.

Day 60, Fort Wayne, IN - Cornfield camp east of Leipsic, OH
72.3 miles in 4:21:18 for a total of 3693.0 in 282:45:31 and a top speed of 27.1 mph

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mile 3620.7 - Cycling in the news, part 2

Day 59 started as a cloudy day in my tent. I was camped in the Bethel Bible Church's yard in rural Indiana, about 7 miles west of Winamac, Indiana. As it was Sunday morning and there was a service at 9:30, I wanted to be sure to be out of there before anyone started arriving. I didn't expect there to be any problems with my being there, as I did get permission to camp from the janitor the night before, but I didn't want to risk being invited in for service and proselytized to for an hour. Breakfast was the remaining reconstituted lasagna from last night and gatorade. Mmm...

I broke camp around 8:00 and knew I had about 90 miles to cover before I got to Fort Wayne. I passed through Winamac, taking the opportunity to both refill my fluids and toss out my trash from the night before. I see plenty of trash along the side of the road, carelessly tossed out by people in cars. It would be easier for me too, if I just didn't care and cast aside my trash wherever it was that I was done with it. But that's not right, it's bad for the land, plants and animals, not to mention just plain ugly. You might not care if you live in a trash can, but I'd prefer not to. So I carry the burden of my waste until it can be disposed of properly. It's really not that hard for me, but clearly too much to ask of some people in cars.

I continued along highway 14 as the sky cleared slightly and the temperature started rising. After the two solid weeks of low to mid 60's I dealt with back in the west, I'm happy to have days in the mid to upper 80's. I'm one of those people who functions much better in hot temperatures than cold. I'm solar powered, I can't help it.

I started the day about 1/3rd of the way across Indiana and I was looking to wind up in Fort Wayne, about 15 miles from the Ohio boarder. I soon came to Rochester and went along the shore of scenic Lake Manitou. At this point, 14 goes southwest and then takes a swing due north for a couple miles. Heading east again after that, I passed through several small towns as the day started to get hot. My water levels started to drop again and it was now getting to be lunch time.

I arrived in the town of South Whitley. Here the highway turns south again to cross the Eel River. I looked north and south to see which seemed to have better options for lunch. Arbitrarily choosing south, I crossed the river and found JD's Riverside Cafe. In the parking lot was a couple who had just emerged from the restaurant and were about to get onto their motorcycles. Immediately, I asked if this was the place to stop for lunch and they emphatically assented. We talked for several minutes, comparing the maintainance needs of bicycles and motorcycles. They informed me that the cafe was owned by a Mexican family and not only was the food good, but the service was the best to be found anywhere in town. I went inside to see for myself.

As I sat down, the chips and salsa and water hit the table. Good start. Looking at the menu, I decided on the Reuben sandwich. Maybe it didn't quite go with the chips and salsa, but whatever. As I was eating my sandwich, the woman who was quite clearly the matron of the family was clearing a table nearby. She looked out the window at Penny, then looked back at me. She asked one of her daughters nearby 'El muchacho venga con bicicleta? De donde?' I both saw the exchange and understood the question, but waited for the girl to translate her mother's question. I responded in English that I had started in San Fransisco and was making my way to New York. She smiled widely and said in broken English that that was fantastic. She seemed really happy to see someone riding a bike so far. She offered to refill any water that I might need before I left.

Finishing my sandwich, I went up to pay my check. One of the daughters looked to her mother and asked how much she should charge me. 'Nada' the mother replied, waving her off. The girl shrugged and said that my lunch was free. I looked at the mother and asked 'Esta seguro?' 'Si, si, si'. Thus, after nearly 3600 miles of riding across the country and telling waiters and restaurant managers about my trip, finally here, in a smallish town in central Indiana, from a woman who spoke very little English, I got my first free meal. I tipped 30% of what the bill would have been, then brought in my water bottles to be refilled. When I next come through South Whitley, Indiana, I will surely eat there again.

As I was getting back onto the bike, I saw on my phone that I had gotten a message from the producer calling me back about a time to meet up with her reporter once I got into Fort Wayne. I called back and told her that I expected to be in town soon and gave her a rough time and location for a reporter to meet me. Continuing on, I got back onto 14 and headed toward the city.

I reached Fort Wayne, and suddenly a bike path appeared alongside the highway. It looked like it had been recently installed or upgraded from a sidewalk. There were a couple other cyclists and pedestrians on it, but it was wide enough that three or four cyclists could comfortably ride abreast. I crossed over interstate 69 and entered the real city. For a while I was elbow to side mirror with the traffic, but soon enough I had gotten to one end of the River Parkway. Checking my phone, I saw I had a message now from the reporter, so I called her back and we decided on a nearby playground to meet.

I crossed a street to Rockhill Park and waited for the reporter to arrive. There was an older man with a metal detector scanning the playground. Finally, the reporter arrived, set up her camera, and started the interview. I talked on camera for about 10 minutes, explaining what I'm doing and why, what I've seen and what I'd like to see in the future. The reporter was suitably impressed and I passed her one of my cards so she could check out my blog. She needed to get back to the studio so she could get this onto the 6:00 news, barely an hour in the future. I wished her good luck as she drove off.

I called Ben and found out where to meet him. As it turns out, he was working on one of the few streets in downtown Fort Wayne that actually has a bike lane. I got to him easily. He is working for a tv production company that creates a lot of commercials. In the studio, there were a couple walls and the floor painted in bright green. We decided to go check out Greekfest that was winding up that evening at a park not far away.

We got down to the park and were disappointed to see that they were packing up already. I was hungry, as usual, and really would have enjoyed some kind of food there. We met up with Ben's housemate and decided to go try to find food. The first place we went to was not open on Sunday. We walked around to a pizza joint a block away, but found the tables all full and the line pretty long. So we walked down to a bar called Henry's and established ourselves at a table in a corner.

A dinner and several beers later, we went back to the studio where Ben had left his car and I had left Penny. We took a couple pictures of me on Penny in front of the greenscreen. Instead of the laborious loading of my bike into the back of his car, I rode behind him to his place a couple miles away. Here again the cruel reality of real estate prices of new york vs the rest of the civilized world hit me like a metaphor. Ben and his housemate share a large three bedroom house with a back yard and blah blah blah and pay pretty much 1/3rd of what I pay for my half of a little Brooklyn condo. We spent a couple hours on his back porch catching up. I was aware that, as I sat there talking, words I had spoken into a camera several hours earlier were now being played on the evening news for an audience of a half a million people in the greater Fort Wayne region.

From Indiana's News Center's website:

Day 59, Bethel Church Camp, IN - Fort Wayne, IN
93.0 miles in 7:34:24. totals now 3620.7 in 283:24;13 and a top speed of 28.0 mph

Again, apologies.

Hi, everyone. Yes, I'm still alive. It's already July 9th and I know I haven't posted anything in a week and you are all itching for more. More there is, but I think it might have to wait till I get home for the write up. I am 90% certain that I will be home Sunday night. Only 3 days away.

I have gone over 4200 miles at this point, and last night I got a flat for the first time in 9 states. I also made a small town newspaper in central PA. The last few days have been hot, humid and hilly, but I still managed to cover over 210 miles in the last two days.

Anyway, I'm keeping good notes and there will be plenty of storytime in a few days when I get home.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mile 3527.2 - Advancing east again.

It has now been 58 days since I left the fictional city of San Franclisco. Beautiful, metropolitan San Franclisco. My intention was to leave Steve's place after breakfast and try to get as far across Indiana as possible. Well, that soon turned into going to watch the local girls' softball all-star team play another playoff caliber team. After that we had to get ice cream, and this turned into that and it was soon 2:00 and I hadn't even packed up yet.

Finally I got everything together and loaded up Penny again. Once again, I felt the mixed pangs of wanting to stay with my friends longer and relax in comfort and the desire to draw myself ever closer to home. Once again, the road won. I talked to my friend Ben, with whom I would stay in Fort Wayne, near the Ohio border. Ben had contacted someone he knew at the local news station. I got a call from one of the producers who wanted to set up a time when I would be in Fort Wayne that I could be interviewed about my trip. I gave her a tentative time that I though I would make it, but said it would be best to contact me Sunday morning, when I'll have a better idea of when I'd hit the city 180 miles away.

Headed down the shaded but nearly shoulderless rural Illinois highway, I go south then swing east. It takes less than two and a half hours for me to traverse the 41 miles between Wilmington and the Indiana boarder. Again at this state line, there is no grand sign welcoming me to this most virtuous of states, just a small green rectangle notifying me of the county I was entering. Shrug. Maybe Indiana isn't the most virtuous state. The shoulder was only a couple feet wide here, and the heavy truck traffic picked up.

After a couple dozen miles of this, I turned off onto a single lane road that shot between corn fields. Going down the nearly empty road without shoulders, I took a break at a small bridge over a creek. Looking at the time and the map, I wanted to cover another 30 miles to get to the Tippecanoe State Park, where I could camp. At this point though, it is already after 7:00 and in less than two hours it will be dark. I quickly ate and then set out again.

I passed through more fields and small towns, covering miles, but not quite keeping the pace that I would need to make it to the park. There were a number of farmhouses I passed where I suddenly found myself being chased by dogs. None of them ended up catching me. As the sun set, I was still nearly 10 miles away from the park. Eventually, I saw a brightly lit sign in the distance that at first I took for a restaurant. As I had not had a real meal since breakfast, I thought that I should get a bite then continue in the dark to the park. As I got to it though, I could see that this structure was a church. Despite being 9pm on a Saturday, I could see that there were lights on in the building. I went around, trying to see if there was an unlocked door, and when I came around to the back, I found a janitor who was taking the trash out. I asked if it would be a problem for me to set up camp in a corner of the yard somewhere. He nodded and said it would be fine, so I set up off the back of the unpaved parking lot, between a small playground and the fence marking the boundary of a cornfield.

I sprayed myself down with insect repellent and pulled out one of my freeze-dried backpacker meals. Just add 2 cups of boiling water and wait 13 minutes and the food miraculously reconstituted itself into something that tasted more or less like the lasagna it promised. It was nice to have a hearty, hot meal and watch the fireflies flicker in the expanding darkness. There were sounds of fireworks in the distance, though I was never able to see any.

Day 58, Wilmington, IL - Bethel Churchyard Camp, West of Winamac, IN
92.2 miles in 6:53:47. Totals: 3527.7 miles in 276:51:49 and a high speed of 25.0 mph

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mile 3435.5 - A little further down the line

Day 57 started with too little sleep. Mom wanted to have breakfast with me before she had to start work, so we went out to Dean's Cafe, near my mom's work. Breakfast was good, but I wouldn't have minded another hour of sleep. It's hard to get sleep in that house. My older brother drove me back to my parents' place where I packed up and loaded the bike. It was good to get back on the road.

I started on the Lily Cache Bike Trail, took the connecting trial past the new high school out to the Remington sports complex. From there I took Vetran's Parkway out to Romeoville. I pulled up in front of RC Hill, the elementary school I attended from 2-5th grades. As I came up to the main doors, the odometer on my gps hit 3400 miles. I had noticed that my tires needed more air, so I stopped at one of the gas stations nearby. The compressed air machine wanted a dollar in quarters, so I went in to get change. The station attendant nicely offered to just turn the air machine on for me. That was great. I'll prefer my air to be free.

A couple miles from my old school is the Illinois and Michigan canal. This canal was historically significant as it was the link that connected the Atlantic through the great lakes to the Mississippi river and thus the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time, goods from new england could cheaply be shipped to the midwest and south. Though supplanted by the railroads within 50 years of its completion, the I & M Canal is largely responsible for making an obscure town called Chicago into one of the world's great cities. Though the canal and it's locks no longer ship goods, there is a bike trail that follows the old towpath from Romeoville 68 miles south to the Illinois River at Peru. I wasn't going that far today, though at some point, I would like to take it from end to end. I took it instead only as far as Joliet, The City of Steel and Stone.

Coming into Joliet, I passed the ruins of what was once one of the greatest foundries in North America. Massive masonry skeletons remain of the once huge complex. I poked around a little in one of the former smelting plants, a building as long as a football stadium. I the crossed into the bulk of the city. Coming into downtown Joliet, I passed the Rialto Theater, site of several field trips in grade school. The next block beyond the theater was closed to auto traffic for a farmers' market. I stopped at one booth to get some cherries. Mmm, cherries.

After a slight misdirection caused by the need to detour around the rest of the farmers' market, I came to the southeastern corner of the city and picked up the Wauponosee Glacial Trail. This is yet another former rail line turned into a recreational trail. I passed through farmland and prairies. At one point there was a marker noting that the regular hills to the west were not natural hills, but storehouses from the old Joliet munitions plant. Much of the prairie land there was turned into farmland, and only in the last couple decades has interest grown enough to try to recover some of this lost grassland.

There was one point, in the town of Manhattan, that the trail actually passes the local railroad station. If I lived in Manhattan and worked in Chicago or Joliet, I would not need a car. I would be able to ride my bike to the train in the morning and in the evening, get to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the trail on the ride home. Much better than sitting in traffic on 55.

A little further down the trail, I stopped to take a break on a bench and watch a farmer plow his field in the warm sun.

Eventually I hit Kahler Rd, and swung left to get into Wilmington. In Wilmington is Steve, one of my best friends growing up. Steve was waiting out on his porch with his father who had come by to spend time with his grandchildren. Actually, just his grandson Gavin, as Chloe, Steve's daughter, was away at a slumber party at a friend's place. That's too bad because I was looking forward to seeing Chloe again. Steve's brother Matt was also there, and I arrived near the beginning of the Cubs-White Sox game. The Cubs didn't do so well in the game.

They asked what I wanted to do, and I expressed interest in going to a Joliet Jackhammers game, as they were in town tonight. Matt managed to score free tickets with a single phone call. This is now the secons game Matt has gotten me into for free, the other being rooftop seats at Wrigley last summer. The game was ok, then we got back and stayed up pretty late with his wife Kristina, Gavin and Matt playing Guitar Hero. It was a good afternoon spent with good friends, yet when I went to bed, I could hear the road calling me.

Day 57, Bolingbrook, IL - Wilmington, IL
40.82 miles in 3:37:41. Now a total of 3435.52 miles in 267:58:02 and a high speed of 30.2 mph.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mile 3394.7 - Home again

Days 55 and 56 were spent at my parents' house. After spending much of the morning hanging out with my family, I wanted to take a ride. There are a number of bike paths that have been built in the 15 years since I lived there last. There is one that I frequently ride on that goes along side the nearby Lily Cache Creek that I used to play around. I wanted to see if there was some way to get from my parents' house to my mom's work using a route that my mom might actually be willing to ride on. The problem I found was that the individual segments of bike trail throughout the town didn't seem to connect to each other. At some point, my mom would have to cross Illinois Route 53, basically a 4-6 lane highway that runs through the east part of the village. While I had no problem taking a lane at the stop light, heading up a line of cars behind me, there is no way my mom would ever possibly cross like that. What Bolingbrook needs to do is build a bike/pedestrian overpass, but who knows if that is ever going to happen. Disappointed, I headed back home.

My mom asked where I wanted to go for dinner, and I wanted Gino's East. Their deep dish pizza is my favorite and there is nothing in New York that compares. Since my friend and training partner Lisa was in Chicago, we decided to meet at the Gino's in Wheaton, a block away from the train station. My parents and I went to see a movie then drove the little way to the Wheaton train station. During the movie, a thunderstorm had rolled through. In Wheaton, it knocked out power in a four block radius around the train station. Unfortunately, this meant the restaurant was not able to turn on their ovens. Also, there was a tornado warning in Oak Park, right where Lisa's train had come to a stop. In fact, all metra trains on that line had been brought to a stand still. After an hour and a half of waiting, the trains started moving again. Then the power came back on. By the time Lisa arrived, the restaurant was open. As it turned out, we were the first customers in and the last customers out that evening. The pizza was worth it.

Pretty much the rest of these two days were spent hanging out and eating with my family. Day 56, I didn't even really get on the bike, though I did spend a good hour cleaning and maintaining. I did, however, spend a decent amount of time in my favorite tree. There's a maple in my parents' front yard that is absolutely perfect for climbing. Five feet off the ground, the trunk breaks off into four large branches, leaving a perfect seat in the middle.

Not much else to report here, so I'll move on to the next day.

Days 55 & 56, Bolingbrook, IL
11.3 miles in 23:05 for 3394.7 miles in 276:20:21 and a high speed of 19.3 mph

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mile 3385.4 – Return to suburbia

When I woke up, much of the tent was still damp. Piece by piece, I started pulling things out of the tent and onto the picnic table nearby. During this process, another camper, Roger, came by seeing that I had only a bike with me. We talked while I packed and ate some cold breakfast. Dan had warned me that the same weather pattern that came through last night was queuing up to hit again in the evening. Since I was going to be racing the weather’s clock, I wanted to get a quick start to the morning. So no oatmeal. Anyway, Roger and I talked for some time, telling each other stories of cycling. Always a good way to start the morning.

Walking from my tent to the bathroom I had hidden out in the night before, I didn’t see any branches downed. Other than some shallow puddles that would be gone by noon, there seemed to be no lasting effect of the heavy storms. I got on my bike and headed down 67. Just past Lake Geneva is a town called Genoa City which lies on the Wisconsin/Illinois boarder. At the line began the McHenry County Trail which would take me to the Fox River Trail and then to the Illinois Prairie Path. This presumably would get me quite close to Bolingbrook, where my parents live. But first, I need to get out of Wisconsin.

Gathered up for the morning, I started to ride south. On the highway I could see the already cleared remnants of downed branches. A few miles further south of where my tent was standing, I entered the town of Eagle. As I came in, I immediately noticed the large police presence in town. I climbed a small hill that highway 67 goes up, but was stopped near the middle of the hill by a policewoman leaning against her patrol car. Apparently, the tornado that I hid from in the bathroom with a frog had ripped through the town not five miles away.

I would again like to take a moment to thank Dan and Dave back in the lab, my personal weather team, for the heads up. I would also like to thank Hermes, protector of travelers, for diverting the worst of the storm away from me. Sorry to all the people whose homes were damaged or destroyed because of it.

The tornado had damaged around 110 houses, but there were no reported injuries. That is very good. The cop told me that there were trees and power lines down across 67 through town, and told me of an alternate way to get back to 67 around town. I took 54 to County S. On this county road there were crews clearing branches from the road and shoulders. I came to a long white fence that looked good except for the half dozen places it was broken by tree. A little way out of town I stopped in at a breakfast joint. On the tv, they were showing the live helicopter view of the wreckage. It was surprisingly close to where my insubstantial little tent was standing when the storm hit. If the storm could level houses, my tent would have been blown halfway to Ohio.

Thanks again, Hermes. I appreciate it.

Further along, I had some examples of bad shoulder to ride on. I went through the resortish town of Lake Geneva, known for quality of the lake, the good food and the Sugar Shack, a club just north of town that has two floors, one of the ladies and one for the gentlemen. If by that description, you still don’t know what goes on there, let me just say it’s a bingo hall. I passed Ryan Braun’s restaurant and a Gino’s East I never knew existed. It was not long after that I came into Genoa City and, not being a very large town, I soon got to the connection to the McHenry County Trail.

The only sign that I had just gone from one state to another was the marker for north bound travelers announcing the end of the McHenry County Prairie Trail. I was in Illinois long enough to read the sign and didn’t even know it. On the route I have chosen, it took me 270:32:25 of riding to cross into Illinois.

The top seven miles of the trail is the old railroad ballast and gravel. It was easy but slow, but in the parts between the trees, the views that opened were quite pretty. All along the trail were groups of workers removing all the fallen debris from last night’s storm. I thanked them as I rode by. I took a break at a little picnic area off the trail in the heart of Glacial Park. This used to be one of the richest waterfowl habitats in the Midwest until agriculture, houses and dams changed much of the landscape. I could make out some herons on the edge of a pond, but they were too far to come out with the camera.

Then a few miles before the town of McHenry, the trail turned paved. I picked up several miles an hour immediately. The rail bed pitch was still relatively flat, so I quickly made it through McHenry and into Crystal Lake. Coming into Crystal Lake is the one bit of this trail that is not railroad grade, as it goes through Sterne’s Woods. All of a sudden I felt like I was on a mountain bike trail in North Carolina, except it was still paved. There were several steep, close inclines that curved at the bottom, so you had to go pretty slow down or risk the blind crash around the corner. Then the woods opened up and there was a pair of hills that looked like it was originally designed for a roller coaster. A few cranks down, and I let gravity pull me to 33.8mph as I got to the bottom. You had to keep as much momentum as possible because what came next I consider an advanced hill. It isn’t expert, it’s not going to kill you, but if you try it unprepared, you’re going to be walking up to the top. After that crest there was a short dip then a turn back into the woods where the small hill with curve motif resumed.

In Algonquin, the trail crossed a street and became the Fox River Trail. Between Algonquin and Elgin, the trail ran along an active railroad track, each trying to sneak in closer to the river. At one point I was passed by a young guy in an orange shirt. At a light not too far along, I closed in on him again, then passed him when he stopped to tell a cyclist walking his bike that he wasn’t far from the bike shop. By now I was holding a steady 19mph pace, so it took him a bit to catch up with me again. When he did he asked if I was doing some sort of cross country thing. I told him about it and he said ‘That’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard’. We stopped and I gave him my card. Conrad is a high school sophomore that was riding a nicer bike than the one I had when I was that age. But then, I am riding a nicer one now, so I guess that’s moot. We rode together for probably 7 or 8 miles, weaving in and out of all of the other traffic on the path that was going slower than us. It doesn’t seem like it would be hard to convince him to ride across the country, though he said he’d at least wait until he had his driver’s license, just in case of emergency. Maybe next time I go across, when I’m looking for two other people to travel with… Several miles past when he would have otherwise turned around, he finally had to go back, but it was another person on the trip that I’m glad I met and got to talk to for a while. Keep riding, man.

In Elgin, I encountered a problem. There was construction ahead and a bike path detour. I rolled my eyes but accepted it. I passed a fountain made of water jets set into the ground. Dozens of children were playing in the massive public sprinkler they had set up there. At the river, people were fishing, strolling, cycling, or just sitting on a bench watching the scene.

I crossed under the highway 20 bridge and the woods started again. Not far into it, a long segment of the Fox River Trail was closed off for construction. I don’t know whose bright idea it is to close the bike path from the beginning of June to the end of July. That is possibly the worst pair of months to close a bike path, possibly behind May/June.

But right there was my connection to the Illinois Prairie Path which would send me back down into Wheaton. I was riding along and burst out of some trees when suddenly the path ended at a road that was quite clearly being constructed. I had to lift my 70lb bike up the foot thick concrete, watching out for the several inches of rebar hanging out the side. Crossing the dirt median, I had to lower then raise her again. By riding along the edge of the construction, I got onto a real road, but was told I had to detour to get to the next segment of bike path. Army Trail Road has no shoulder along here, but plenty of traffic, so it was a joy to ride along. I finally got back onto the path in Bartlett.

There was one point where the Prairie path splits off and the signage is confusing, but I managed to find the right part. That part of the patht goes south east through a forest to County Farm Road. At the end of County Farm Road in Wheaton is the high school I went to, but I did not visit it. At a stop light, the trail continued diagonally across the intersection. While a pair of girls on bikes were waiting, I crossed the direction I could. Then, as the light I needed turned green, I started and saw a young punk on a mountain bike speed past the girls and shoot across the intersection. Ok, punk, you’re on. I don’t think it even took 100 yards for me to pass him, again setting a steady 19-20 mph pace. Up to the challenge, he kept pace, steering clear of foot and bike traffic in both directions. About three miles later, the path dumped onto a road. I could hear him say ‘damn’ as we came out. I saw an orange detour sign and swore. I hadn’t been in Illinois 4 hours and I had already had it with the construction. That was what got Justin and me talking. I asked about the detour and we rode several blocks together to the Wheaton train station, where his route split off. I did not know it then, but this very corner would play a big role in my day almost exactly 24 hours later.

From there, Dan had me routed south for a while before resuming east and going through downtown Naperville. I took the more direct and difficult way home. Thus I started to piss off drivers in Wheaton and Naperville. I composed a song, ‘The Reasons I Hate Naperville’ and it was not very complimentary. One guy yelled at me to ride on the sidewalk and called me a name that I’m sure he’s been called before. I invited him to pull over so we could discuss his proposition, but he declined and the car pace was just faster than I could keep up with having already logged 100 miles on the day. It’s a shame, really. I felt like we had a lot to discuss. I was going about 20 at the time, and I want to know what part of a cyclist doing 20 miles per hour on a sidewalk sounds safe. If the counter argument is made that I should then ride slower for the pedestrians, then I suggest that he drive slower for me. That and I may have wanted to give the guy a good close look at my knee, but I digress.

Eventually, I made it back to my parents’ place. Most of the people who lived on the block from when I lived here last are gone, with the marked example of my parents’ two immediate neighbors. The three consecutive homes have housed the same families for at least 29 years. Rolling down the block, I listed off in my head as best I could remember who used to live in each house. I got to my parents’ place and there, patient as always in the front yard, is my favorite tree. It was a perfect height for climbing then, and as we have both grown a bit in the subsequent years, it is still the perfect height for me to clamor into. No trip to my parents’ is complete without a climb into the tree.

Day 54, Kettle-Moraine State Park, WI - Bolingbrook, IL
110.6 miles in 8:20:05. Now 3285.4 miles in 275:57:16 and a high speed of 33.8

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mile 3274.8 – The adventure continues

I woke up in Fond Du Lac, well refreshed. I think not drinking the night before helped. I wanted to get to the Wild Goose State Trail, which leads from Fond Du Lac to Highway 60, just past Juneau. It was a little unclear where the trail started, but I knew I had to get to the Rolling Meadows Golf Course on the southwestern corner of the town. I crossed highway 41, then proceeded to take a slight detour to take in some of the farmland south and west of town. I did eventually make it to the golf course and found the trailhead.

Almost immediately I was thrust back into a lush green world. Much of the trail is tree-lined, sometimes to the point of being called wooded. There are breaks and patches between the trees, opening a vista of pastures and farms broken by double lines of trees. There was one camera shot I tried to take that would have been called ‘Cows, Corn, Eagle, Turbine’ but I didn’t quite manage the picture I wanted. Again, the camera is too feeble an instrument to capture the sense of everything around me. Everything was growing, from the wild tall grasses and corn well ahead of the ‘knee high by the fourth of july’ maxim to the birds growing fat on the spiders and insects buzzing around. The landscape possessed a quality lacking in the rock and snow of the mountain heights or the multi-colored sands of the desert: everywhere around there was life. Every shade of green I could imagine was present.

The trail starts southwest but nudges south around the shoulder of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Wetlands now entered the scene, grassy meadows covering the hills above them studded with islands of trees. Mallards sloppily played in the water while egrets stood tall and silent at the edge of the grass. I took a break at a bench and watched a large spider explore one of Penny’s tires, only to leave it for more favorable hunting grounds. Unfortunately there were plenty of mosquitoes around and my bug spray is almost running out. I snacked on leftovers of a couple of meals from the past few days, the end of last night’s burrito being the star, then climbed onto the bike again.

The trail goes back into farmland past the end of the Horicon Marsh. My next break was in Juneau, where I asked a woman I saw on the street which of the tree bars in town I should grab a bite in. It was just one of those days where I was constantly hungry. There are about 4 miles of trail left between Juneau and highway 60. For this stretch, a group of local students have put up a scale map of our solar system, with plaques representing the distance to each planet. It really helps to visualize the great distances between the planets. I passed the first four within about half a mile, but then the distance from Mars to Jupiter was pretty long. By Saturn, I had stopped looking for the plaque and almost passed it. Pluto, of course, downgraded to a dwarf planet (it’s not Pluto’s fault there are 7 moons in our solar system larger than it) appeared at the trailhead at highway 60. I took another break there to eat a bit more.

Traffic wasn’t too bad, though I never had a shoulder wider than 4’. I turned south at highway 67 aiming for the southern campground at the Kettle Moraine State Park. I stopped for a break in Oconomowoc, one of my favorite place names in Wisconsin. Oconomowoc, Oconomowoc, Oconomowoc.

As I got to Douseman a few miles down the road, the clouds started getting thicker and the sun lowered itself to the horizon. I entered the park, and, given the looks of the clouds, opted to stop at the closer northern campground instead. I found one of the empty spots on the large grounds and paying my $14 for a non-state resident, pitched my tent. I could hear thunder cracking in the west and as I started loading panniers into the tent, the first drops of rain started falling.

Soon the thunderstorm arrived. The clouds were too thick and the aperture of my tent too narrow to see the individual bolts, but the ever-changing illumination of the trees and clouds was fantastic. It was a light show unrivaled by any technology known to Hollywood. Stage right, a flash of light so bright, you could see color in the trees around. A sizzle, then the roar of the thunder as it streaks above. Stage left, another flash, bright and sustained. A sizzle as the higher frequency waves reach first, a crack as the middle of the pack arrives, then the solid, vibrating boom of the main peal.

My phone rang. My brother sounded a little frantic. ‘Where are you?’, he asked. The Ottowa Lake Campground in Kettle Moraine. He told me there was a tornado warning for Palmyra, the town on the western edge of the park, about 5 miles away. We both quickly agreed that I should seek shelter. I pulled on my rain pants, shoes and raincoat, grabbed the flashlight, phone and a bit of food and hid out in the bathroom, the only structure around I could get into. I stood there for a while watching out the windows as the light and sound show continued. At some point, I noticed I was not alone in the bathroom. In one of the stalls a small frog was sitting on the foot pedal-operated toilet flush. I looked down at the frog, the frog looked up at me. We agreed to let the other alone, and went on enjoying our storm.

At long last, my brother called to tell me the warning had cleared. Thank you for the heads-up, personal weather team! I waited for the rain to lighten up a bit, then went back to the tent. In my haste to leave, I left the flap open a bit too far. I had zipped the mesh door all the way closed, but a turn of the wind had sent a good amount of water inside. My sleeping bag, thankfully, was just beyond the wet. I sopped up what I could with my towel, and slept through the shortest night of the year with raincoat and pants on, using the sleeping bag as a cushion.

Day 53, Fond Du Lac, WI – Kettle Moraine State Park, WI
81.9 miles in 6:43:43 for 3274.8 in 267:37:11 of wheels spinning so far and a top speed of 24.3 mph

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mile 3192.9 – Cycling in the news

Saturday morning, 51 days since starting my trip, I woke up in a dorm room ready for a full day of my college reunion. My first scheduled event was the Alumni Parade at 10:00, but of course I was awake much earlier than that. I grabbed my phone to see if I could find the story about my in the Post-Crescent. Getting to their site, a photo of me popped up with the link to the story. Here it is:

It’s a good write up. There are two minor factual errors, The town in New York I ride to is Nyack, I have never been to Niagra, and my friend I’m going to visit is in Wilmington, not Bloomington. Neither of these are worth calling up the paper to get them to fix, though now I suppose part of the public record of this trip is incorrect. I also wish they had included the name of my blog in the print version, though at least there is a link in the online article.

Satisfied with the story, I wanted to get copies of the paper for my mom, my grandmothers, and a couple to send home to Brooklyn. Grabbing Penny, I set of to search College Ave for some papers. When I got to the avenue, I was met by something I did not expect at all: a farmers’ market. That certainly wasn't there when I lived here. I walked a bit through the crafts and vegetables, past booths offering sandwich sauces and locally crafted draught sodas. There was a truck with a large tank on the back, through the window of which you could see trout swimming. I found a booth that had complimentary copies of the Post-Crescent. I looked down at the paper, and there, front page above the fold and in full color, were Penny and me, riding up College Ave. For this day, I was the biggest story in the Fox Valley. I grabbed several copies.

I rode back to the dorm and emptied a pannier. My plan was to go back to the farmers’ market, grab a number of ingredients, then make breakfast with my camp stove out on the balcony of the dorm. I bought no more than two things from any one vendor, wanting to spread the love around a bit. I got oyster mushrooms, spinach, green onions, goat milk provolone and cheese curds (which were fantastic) a draught root beer, a tomato, peaches and some bratwurst patties. As I was walking back to the end so I could get back on the bike, a guy stopped me and asked if I was the guy who had ridden here. We talked for about 10 minutes, both of us leaving satisfied at the meeting.

I needed eggs to complete my breakfast idea, so I rode up to Jacob’s Meat Market and got eggs and rolls. I made it back to the dorm again and gathered what I needed to cook. Heading out to the second floor balcony, I opened the door. This set off a rather loud alarm. Oops. Sorry, anyone who was still asleep. I went down to the desk and they called security to turn it off. I changed my venue for breakfast then, choosing a small, tree lined circle behind the building. The final product was quite good.

The details of my reunion activities are not really germane to the story of my bike trek. I mailed off the copies of paper to my relatives, played a Swedish game called Kubb which involves strategically throwing sticks of wood at blocks of wood, and at the end of the night, was the last man standing when the partying was done.

This actually was a bit of a problem. The sky was getting light and I was not at all tired. I laid down in my dorm room for a bit, but I was still wide awake. So I did what come naturally to me, I decided to take a bike ride. As I pulled Penny out, I waved to the desk worker. Stepping outside, I got a brilliant view of pink clouds lining a deep blue sky behind Main Hall. I went back in and told the desk worker, who seemed to be wasting time online, to come out and look at the sunrise. We stood there for a moment, admiring the work of sunlight brushing across the upper atmosphere.

Across the Lawe St Bridge, there is a trail that runs out to the eastern end of College Ave. Where College turns into County CE, the CE Trail begins, stretching from Appleton to Kimberley. Just as I reached highway 441, the sun broke the horizon. This was a good trail. I didn’t take it all the way to the end, rather I turned around shortly after a bike shop off the trail in Combined Locks. Back into town, I took the Olde Onieda St Bridge back across the Fox River, getting the western view of campus.

It was now 6:20, I had ridden around 17 miles already and most of my peers were still asleep. I was not getting tired, so went to bed. At 8:00 the church bells a few blocks away started ringing and I couldn’t fall back to sleep after that. I got an email from Ian, one of the organizers of the Tour of America’s Dairyland. The event takes place in locations across Wisconsin, and it happened that they were doing a criterium in Appleton that afternoon. He invited me down to meet them, so around 9:20, as they were still setting up for the morning, I dropped in. I talked to them for a little bit and shook some hands. They were clearly busy, so I said I’d drop by again later in the afternoon.

At 10:30 was our class breakfast with the new university president, Jill Beck. President Beck isn’t brand new, she’s now been there for a number of years, but was new since our graduation 10 years earlier. I had planned to bring up expanding bicycle access on campus and the surrounding community, but instead, by the time she got over to our table, I was just tired. Oh well. I’m going to try to plan an alumni bike ride for future reunion weekends, so I’m sure at some point our paths will cross again.

I got back to the dorm and packed up. I had brought all of my stuff down to the lounge by noon and for a little while reworked my day’s route to include the CE trail again. I wanted to get down to Fond Du Lac at least, at the southern end of Lake Winnebago. But first, I had a bike race to go watch.

A crit is a short circuit race. The track they had laid out went four blocks along College Ave, turned up two blocks and turned again (actually at the corner I used to live on) and then a third left turn to get back to College Ave. The course was .8 miles and there were a set number of laps for the different skill rankings. The biggest race of the day was the last one, the professional men’s rank. I came in at the middle of one of the lower men’s ranking, but it was still a great race.

As I stood watching, the guy I had talked to at the Farmers’ Market the previous morning found me. I really wish I could remember his name. He was excited to see me again and introduced his partner. He told me that he was inspired by me and had ridden 20 miles that morning, for the first time in years. He rode out along the CE trail to the bike shop that I had turned around at, got a few new things for his bike and was going to start riding regularly again.

Now this may sound corny or insincere. Standing there in the middle of a bicycle race surrounded by professional cyclists, cycling organizers and mechanics, to be told that I, a lone amateur, had inspired someone to get back on his bike was as proud a moment for me as climbing to the summit of Carson Pass. I have had several people along the way tell me that they want to get back on their bike because of me, this was the first time that I know someone actually had. From this moment forward, regardless of what happens between now and home, this trip has been a success.

I talked with a number of other people in the crowd, one of them even offering me the copy of Saturday’s paper if I hadn’t gotten one. I ended up getting six, so I think I’m covered. One older man, retired military by the looks of him, though possibly a farmer hardened by Wisconsin winters, talked to me for about 20 minutes. He liked to go to bike races and reads the major cycling magazines, though his riding days were behind him. He complimented me on my choice of the Trek 520 and, after a thorough exchange of cycling philosophies told me ‘What you’re doing takes balls. It takes lots of balls. You should write a book.’ Hard to disagree with that.

I met up with Ian again briefly and secured his assistance as I try to set up an alumni ride. There’s quite a bit of the organizing stuff I can do from Brooklyn, but things like finding and marking appropriate routes is better done locally. He again offered to take me out and introduce me around if I wanted to stay until they had cleaned up around 9, but I wanted to get on the road.

I left Appleton at last, taking the CE trail I had ridden 8 hours before. Along the way I passed some bushes full of birds warning passersby to stay away. One of them was flying right behind and above me, calling angrily. Suddenly, there was a bang against the back of my helmet. I was attacked! I was attacked by a bird! Thankfully, the bird didn’t even scratch the helmet. If I wasn’t wearing one, that may have hurt. I rang my bell a couple times and the bird retreated.

I took the trail to its end in Kimberley, then swung south along the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago towards Fond Du Lac. I stopped at a little ice cream shop in Sherwood. The owner, seeing my helmet, asked if I had heard about the guy who had ridden from California to Appleton this weekend. I smiled. Yes, yes I had heard something about that.

As I was approaching Fond Du Lac, the day’s activity was taking its toll. I not only had little energy, but I started to get sleepy on my bike, for the first time I can remember ever in my entire life. I managed to stay awake though. Getting into Fond Du Lac, I found a trail running along the highway that I hadn’t seen on any of the maps. I crossed town and found a room close to the Wild Goose Trail, which I wanted to take south in morning. Shortly the sky was dark, I was fast asleep.

Days 51 & 52, Appleton, WI – Fond Du Lac, WI
67.24 miles in 6:35:35. 3192.9 miles total with a trip time of 261:53:28 and a top speed of 36.1 mph (hit going down the hill crossing the Lawe St bridge)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mile 3124.6 - Get back to where I once belonged

It has now been 50 days since I left San Francisco. While most of that time has been spent riding, I've had a lot of non-riding time in the last couple weeks, since getting to Minneapolis, really. Today I'd be arriving in Appleton for my reunion, the only set date I needed to be anywhere by. After the weekend, I'll be almost clear of the bottleneck, just my parents in suburban Chicago and a couple more friends in Illinois and Indiana to see.

Even though I don't usually eat breakfast for at least an hour after I wake up in the morning, I got out of the shower to see the dining room table spread with food. It was only just 7:30, and that's long before I would start to feed myself. There was only a place for me set, as this grandmother just has a cup of coffee for her first meal of the day too. After I ate what I determined would be a satisfactory amount of food in her eyes, I pushed away from the table. As I was repacking and double checking my route for the day, the photographer from the Appleton Post-Crescent called and we decided to meet up on County CB out by the airport, around noon.

I spent a few minutes maintaining Penny, took a picture of her with grandma, then got back on the road. Though I was going less than 30 miles, it was good to be moving forward. Just across the Fox River as it takes it's course through Lake Butte de Morts and Lake Winnebago, is the trailhead for the Wiouswash Trail. It swings back west as it hits Outagamie County, after which I would have to switch to county roads. The trail was great, however, another old railbed turned rec trail. Now whenever I look at train tracks, I see a bike path.

I passed several people along the way, but for many miles it was just me, the wild raspberry and sumac and the trail. At one point my phone rang. It seems that Mr. Peterson at Lawrence had been busy. The call was from the newsroom of WHBY radio in Appleton, and he wondered if he could have a few minutes of my time. Of course, of course. This wasn't a live interview, he asked questions and taped my responses. It lasted about 15 minutes and while I always have more to say, I at least said enough that I wanted people to hear. As I type this monday morning, I still havn't heard the actual piece that aired, but I have evidence that it did. Someone who had flown in to Appleton for the reunion told me that the cab driver who picked him up was talking to him about it. This is the post on WHBY's website:

As I was wrapping up that conversation, a cyclist with panniers and a handlebar bag went by me. It didn't take too long to catch up to her, and I asked about the bags. She was riding 20 miles today, getting ready for a long trip she and some friends were taking. It was a nice talk, but then I got to my turn off. She continued northwest with the trail and I headed northeast towards Appleton.

Several miles later, I got to the corner of the Outagamie County Airport. The property stretched for several miles to highway CB. I turned and started along another side of the airport's exterior fence. The photographer had no problem picking me out, but as I stopped to talk to him, he said he didn't like any of the shots. The side of the airport grounds isn't the greatest backdrop after all. He said he would catch up to me on campus and get me again there.

I do not know why there is no bike lane, path or trail from Lawrence campus downtown to the mall or airport on College Ave way past highway 41. There should be. I would have ridden that. Instead I got to deal with a good amount of mall traffic and others moving from the interstate towards downtown. Even once you get downtown, there's not a good place for bikes on the road, so most other cyclists I say was riding on the sidewalk.

I don't like that, I really don't. It is not safe for you to be riding there and it's especially not safe for the people trying to walk there.

I got back onto campus and there was the photographer again, set up across from the picturesque Lawrence Chapel waiting for me to come into frame. Once he was satisfied with the pictures he got, we talked a moment. I then rode around to the new Richard and Margot Warch Student Center. This building is really fantastic. It has a dining hall, cafe, shop, conference rooms, offices of student publications and other organizations, a much better cinema room than the old on in the arts building, and mailboxes that you keep the whole time you are a student there.

I walked up to the registration table and told the girl working my name, class of 2000. Her eyes perked up and she said 'you're the guy riding his bike, right?' I think the nametag in my folder of registration stuff should have read 'The Guy', because all weekend long I heard 'Oh, you're the guy...'

Day 50, Oshkosh, WI - Appleton, WI
29.35 miles in 1:39:50. Now 3125.6 miles in 255:18:53

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mile 3095.3 - The city by the lake

Today started with a breakfast grandma had spread on the table by the time I got out of the shower. We spent a good part of the morning just talking and that was nice. In the early afternoon she had a hair appointment and since the weather was fantastic for only the second time in the last week, I wanted to get out on the bike.

Grandma lives a few blocks from the Congress Ave bridge and I rode on the road surface because there were people walking on the sidewalk. A driver asked why I wasn't up on the sidewalk. I'm a vehicle, I told her. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.

I made a straight line for Menominee Park which runs along a portion of the western shore of Lake Winnebago. I got to the park and rode north a little bit, stopping at a bench almost on line with the end point on the breakwater. From that bench, I was within a mile of the place where I was born. I sat for a while, watching the lake's relentless waves. After a while, I saw someone on a bike riding out to the end of the breakwater. If they could get out there, so could I. Jumping back onto Penny, I rode past several people fishing, some people strolling and a few fellow cyclists.

The point at the end of the breakwater is called Ames Point, after a man who was always fishing there. Counting that as the starting point, there's about a 6 mile loop that goes through the park. It passes the beach, sports fields and tennis courts, and then swings around the Menominee Park Zoo. I have some fond memories as a child of going through the zoo with my grandparents, parents and brothers. We would sometimes ride the little kiddie train around or go paddle boating in the little bay, well protected from the waves of the lake.

As I was coming back up to the bench near the entrance I started at, I got a phone call. On the other end of the line was Jennifer Espino, a reporter from the Appleton Post-Crescent. Rick Peterson, the man in the university communications office I had spoken to yesterday had talked to one of the editors at the Post-Crescent and she was given the assignment. I relaxed on a bench, being warmed by the bright sun and cooled by the breeze off the lake, and we talked for about 45 minutes. She finally ran out of questions and I had said all I had to say. She told me it was a great story and said she would talk to the photos editor and get a photographer to meet me as I was coming into town in the morning. Awesome.

I rode back to grandma's house to share the good news. A little later we were both hungry for dinner, so she suggested an Italian place a couple miles away. I offered to drive soon learned that I do not enjoy driving a car in which either of my grandmothers were a passenger. My grandmother doesn't have the greatest sense of direction and there was construction all along the street the restaurant was on. Next time she can drive herself and I'll just meet her there on my bike. I bet I'd get there first.

Day 49 - Oshkosh, WI
10.9 miles in 43:00 so 3095.3 miles in 253:39:03 and a top speed of 28.1 mph

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mile 3084.4 – From Grandma to Grandma

I woke up in the morning, ready to ride, but there were a few things I needed to do first. I wanted to go down to the post office to ship home more stuff I didn’t want to continue carrying, and I could not leave my grandmother’s without eating breakfast. Whether I was hungry or not wasn’t a concern.

I took a shower and packed everything up. Once I got my panniers ready, I set them all in the living room and took only what I needed to the post office. As I was loading it all into a medium flat rate box, I got a phone call from Rick Peterson from the Lawrence Communications Office. He had heard about my transcontinental trip from the Alumni Relations Office. (On the reunion weekend reservation form, I had mentioned that I needed a place to store the bike, since I was coming across the country and didn’t have a lock with me).

I stepped out of line and he interviewed me for a good 20 minutes. He said that it was a great story, and he was going to put it in the reunion weekend newsletter. He asked if I had a picture of myself and the bike to send him, so I emailed him a picture I had of us in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems like so long ago that I was standing on Baker Beach, but it hadn’t even been a month and a half.

Well, the postmaster had listened to my side of the interview (as well as the several customers that went in and out) and was suitably impressed. She asked a few more questions, then inquired if I wanted some cherries to take for my ride to Oshkosh. Sure, I love cherries.

I got back to grandma’s and a bowl, cereal and milk were all waiting at the table for me. Even though she had only a cup of coffee, the banana I had made a show of eating was not a sufficient breakfast in her mind. I quickly ate, then, wanting nothing more than to get back on the road, loaded Penny up and was shortly waving goodbye to grandma.

The rolling green hills along the road from Princeton to Oshkosh was where this cross country dream began. As a kid, I wanted to ride my bike along highway 23 into Ripon, but at 11 or 12, a 40 mile ride was simply impossible. Don’t worry, young Josh, it would only take 20 years to realize this dream. I have driven this road so many times that know which buildings are hiding past which hills. I passed the wayside only three miles out of town that runs adjacent to the farm my grandfather grew up on. The farm is still tangentially in the family, my great uncle Anton took over the farm when my great grandfather got too old for the business. Anton’s wife died so he remarried later in life, then several years ago Anton himself passed away. So the land is now under control of my great uncle’s widow, who herself is well advanced in years.

This part of the trip is just as beautiful to me as any other I’ve been through. It may seem like boring farmland interspersed with 100-acre clusters of woods, but to me the vibrancy of the green fields, the stalwart power of the towering trees and the quiet burble of the brooks and streams that crisscross the landscape is as enchanting as the mountains and far more so than the deserts and plains.

In Ripon, I caught up with the southern end of the Mascoutin Valley Trail. The trail at that end is somewhat overrun with grasses, so much so that there was a lawnmowing crew out to cut the grass back down. As I passed the crew chief, he stopped me to ask how far I was going. Oshkosh today, but I’m making my way back to Brooklyn. We talked for a few minutes and I gave my card to one of the girls on the crew. As I left he waved and welcomed me to enjoy their trail. Once it crossed the county line, the trail became wider and better kept, the crushed limestone more regular and, in fact, more even than several of the gravel roads I had ridden on in the west.

Passing more farms and fields, I eventually came to highway 21, which my other grandmother lives just off of, on the other side of Interstate 41. I crossed into Oshkosh, and less than two and a half hours after leaving my maternal grandmother’s I arrived at my paternal grandmother’s. She had a nice lunch waiting for me and informed me that we had reservations for a special chef’s dinner that night. The retirement community that her house is in has a real chef and every month he gives demonstration dinners. Since it is June, he grilled everything. The appetizer was grilled pizza with fontina, crimini mushrooms and white truffle oil. For an entrĂ©e, flank steak with a chipotle-cilantro rub and sweet corn, and dessert was a grilled sweet potato s’mores pie. It was all quite tasty.

Since there were only a few guests among all the residents there, one of the administrators went around asking the guests to introduce themselves to the 40 or so assembled diners. I said my name and that I was my grandmother’s grandson. Then I was asked how I had gotten here tonight, So I briefly explained that I had ridden my bike from San Fransisco. Thus began my minor celebrity status at the ol’ folks’ home. Throughout dinner, I had several people approach me to ask questions of my life and journey. Among the other diners were Bill and Barbara Urbroch. Barbara is my godmother, though this was only the second time as an adult that I have seen her. Bill was a favorite professor of my parents’ when they attended UW Oshkosh and I could easily see way. Laid back and soft spoken, but with a quick wit, Bill is an excellent conversationalist. It was really nice to see them and we talked long after the dinner ended, until the crew clearly wanted to clear the tables from the veranda.

Day 48, Princeton, WI – Oshkosh, WI
43.0 miles in 2:25:04. 3084.4 miles total in 252:56:03, and today’s top speed of 29.8mph

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The vacation within the trip

Since I still had more than a week between arriving at my grandmother’s place in Princeton and when I needed to be in Appleton for the reunion, I took quite a bit of time off. On one hand, it was nice to get to spend time with my grandmother and see a number of my friends. On the other hand, I’m supposed to be in the middle of this big, impressive bike trip and I spent far too many days not cycling.

I spent all day Friday and Saturday with Grandma, then Sunday morning, after making breakfast and taking grandma to the grocery store, I took her car down to Madison. I could have ridden the 85 miles from Princeton to Madison, but that would have taken most of a day to get there and another day to get back, instead of the hour and a half a car takes. Since I was more interested in seeing my friends than riding to Madison, I took the car. Once again, I found that I just do not like being in a motor vehicle. Sure, they go faster than a bicycle and have more cargo space, but those are the only two advantages I found.

My first stop in Madison was to Best Buy to try to get my camera repaired. Of course they will send it back to happy magical repair land where the elves will use their ancient magic to undo the moisture damage all the rain caused. Then in two or three weeks, most likely, they’ll ship it to my home. In the meantime, I needed a camera. Because it was not terribly expensive and I already had all the accessories, I got the same model. Ug. I could return the new one within 2 weeks, but then I’d be cameraless again, and I don’t like that.

After a brief visit with my friend Terry, I stopped at Broom Street Theater, where many years ago I worked on a number of plays. It is a small community driven experimental theater, and I was happy to see it is still doing well. The play, Television: The Play, was funny and creative, allowing audience members to choose the next scene through a program guide style menu projected on the back wall. Go see it, people around Wisconsin. I also got to see a number of people I knew from back when I worked at the theater, so that was nice.

After the show, I enjoyed the rainy Marquette Festival, a big outdoor concert on a shore of Lake Monona. Good music, decent food, plenty of beer. After that Terry, her boyfriend David and I went to the Weary Traveler for dinner, which was nice. Since I was staying with Terry and David, I drove back to their place on the other side of town. As I was pulling up to their house, I got a call from Terry saying neither of them could remember where they parked the car. Clearly, they shouldn’t be driving then. I drove back to get them then dealt with all the construction again crossing back to the west side. Ug ug ug.

The next day I spent some time with my friend Zach, who was part of the group I used to play cards with twice a week. They were playing that night and while most of the people in group from eight years ago were no longer there, I was welcome to join them. I made arrangements for Zach to drive me there and back later, but I had a few other things on my docket first. I took a nice long walk with my friend Robin, who it is always good to see. That night was auditions for the next Broom Street Show, written and directed by my friend Heather Renkin. Heather and I acted in a couple shows together years ago, and I did lighting design for another show she was in. I thought it would be an hour and a half of free entertainment, and it would be nice to be on that stage again. It was. Afterwards Heather and the stage manager tried to convince me that I should just stay in Madison for the next 12 weeks, they would happily cast me if I didn’t have to go back to Brooklyn. Thanks guys, but my kitty needs me. Then I went to play cards into the wee hours of the morning.

Tuesday was Terry’s birthday, so I left her a nice present, but I had told grandma I would be back in Princeton by noon for lunch. My Uncle Ed was driving up from Middleton to see me. Well, I got to Princeton at about quarter after 12, and it was as if I ruined the party. That grandmother is a worrier, and all sorts of scenarios from a flat tire to death by explosive collision played in her head. I told her that if I got a flat or died on the way, I’d call her to let her know. What happened was merely some slow and annoying traffic.

After dinner that night, I took Penny out for a ride. It had been four and a half days since I had last ridden, and both of us were glad to be reunited. I didn’t take the gps, so I don’t know exactly how many miles of country road I took in outside of town. I think about 8, but they weren’t going to go on the official tally anyway. As nice as it was to spend so much time with friends and family, I wanted to get back to the business of cycling. Thankfully the next morning I was headed to Oshkosh. Unfortunately, that is only a bit over 40 miles away, and I’ll stop there for two days to visit with my other grandmother.

Days 43 – 47, Princeton, WI
No miles that really count, unknown top speed (but I think I got above 30 at one point)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mile 3041.4 – Over the hills and through the rain to grandmother’s house we go

Starting in Medford, I had one goal for the day, to make it to my grandmother’s place in Princeton. The immediate challenge is that Princeton is a tad more than 130 miles from Medford. But it just didn’t make sense to stop for the night within an hour or two of the free bed waiting for me there. Also, grandma had baked a pie.

Passing south of Medford, I seemed to hit another one of those intangible boundaries. I have left the great north woods and now entered America’s Dairyland. Sure there were still trees, but they were now borders or backdrops to farmland. Great grazing pastures, rows of neatly planted corn and fields of burgeoning green cereals were now rolling past me. The hills had flattened slightly, not dropping nearly as dramatically as the road crossed rivers and streams. My observation about the dairyland was proven when, not 20 miles south of Medford, I came to the town of Colby.

Colby, as you may know, is known around the world for its fine haberdashery. Men’s hats and gloves of the finest quality are produced there. Also, I guess they make cheese. In the center of town park, there is a historical marker about the world famous Colby cheese, first created in a cheese factory just outside of town. In all of the historical markers I have stopped to read along the way, this was the first one dedicated to food production. I suppose when there’s no gold or silver to mine, you find something else to do. On the way out of town, I stopped at the Colby Cheese Shop and bought a small block of Colby. More moist and mellow than its cousin cheddar, Colby is usually served relatively fresh, with the oldest cheese in the shop only 3 months old. Cheddar is usually aged 6 or 9 months, though it is not uncommon to age it for a year. I have once seen a three year old cheddar, but that’s more unusual. I guess Colby just likes to get eaten earlier.

South of Colby, the shoulder widens out to a very comfortable 8’. Other than one little patch of construction in which I had to actually slow down to get in line with the car traffic, I traveled unbothered by the motorists. I passed through several small towns most either slightly smaller or a bit larger than the city of 1600 I would wind up in at the end of the night.

I came to Marshfield, a city of 18,000 known for its medical services, and a bike path lead me nearly the entire way through town. Unfortunately, I missed a cutoff that would have saved me about 4 miles, but didn’t realize until I had stopped at a gas station on the southern end of town to take a break and pulled out the map. Oh well. A few miles south of there, I stopped at a wayside to read the historical marker, and met a family who were on their way up towards the Apostle Islands. We talked for a while, and it turns out the man’s brother had ridden across the country three years ago, upon his turning 50. They wished me luck and we went on our ways. It is always nice to meet nice people though.

South of Marshfield is the junction of highway 13, which I had ridden since just outside Superior and highway 73 which would carry me as close as four blocks from my grandmother’s. Unfortunately, those four blocks were still over 70 miles away, and I had already covered 60 miles. In Wisconsin Rapids, I crossed the Wisconsin River, which looked to me just as slow and lazy as I remembered it. Maybe the rapid part was elsewhere. I passed the minor league ballpark, (home of the Rafters) which had an ad saying ‘It’s easier to catch a fly ball when you have cotton candy in your hands’. That may be true, but then you’d have to lick the sugar off the ball.

I stopped at a fast food joint and noticed that the padding on one of my gloves was starting to free itself from its mesh bonds. Joy. I didn’t think they would last me all the way across, but I was hoping they would. Less than a mile later, though, I found a bike shop and took that as an omen to get a new pair. I did, but not until I was a way down the road did I realize that I really should have gotten the XL size and not the L. I guess I just have XL hands, the gloves are a bit tight. They will stretch though. The other slightly annoying part of new gloves is that it will change my glove tan lines. My glove tan is strong enough that it started drawing comments back in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, the clouds that had been thickening and darkening for most of the afternoon had now started to open up. I put on my leg warmers and for a while the rain was pretty light. But, from Wisconsin Rapids to grandma’s is about 58 miles, so even a light rain multiplied by that distance will get you wet.

Highway 73 was now traveling by itself, going east below town while 13 continues south to Wisconsin Dells. Some of the land use began to change again, I was now passing efficient rows of cranberry bogs and diagonally planted ranks of pine trees. Coming from the unchecked growth of the national forest in the north, the orderly precision of the tree farms seemed foreign. Trees don’t just line themselves up like that, but I suppose corn in the wild wouldn’t either.

Then, in a markless spot between a cranberry farm and a cornfield, Penny and I hit mile 3000. I got to 3000 miles in about 247 hours, which doesn’t seem too bad to me. It was rainy steadily by then, I got a couple shots of the spot with my camera and rolled on. There were still more than 40 miles left to my day. The highway went under Interstate 39, and I stopped at a gas station for water and a snack. Standing under the eaves of the building, I leaned against a window and ate. A couple came out of the station and asked where I was headed. ‘Right now, just to Princeton, but I’m going to New York.’ They had been to the Flea Market in Princeton just the previous Saturday. That happens to be three blocks from grandma’s house. Not only did they know where Princeton was, but the street she lived on.

More miles passed and it was starting to get hungry. Entering the town of Wautoma, I couldn’t help but grin against the cold and the rain. There was a sign pointing straight for Oshkosh and Princeton and to the right to get to Montello. I know all three of these places. I stopped at a bar downtown for a burger and some beer. I was pleasantly surprised when my meal came with freshly fried potato chips. Yum.

A few blocks past dinner, at mile 3022.0, I came to the intersection of 73 and Oxford St. When I was so small, I was not yet speaking in full sentences, my family lived in one of the houses on Oxford Street, just a couple blocks down from the highway. It was getting late and I wanted to get to Princeton, so I didn’t go down to find the house (my dad couldn’t remember which house number it was anyway). I did pull out my camera to get a picture and made a horrible discovery. The camera wouldn’t turn on. I had kept it in a pocket of my raincoat, but apparently enough moisture got inside that it was now not working. This is a bad thing. The rain had at least abated, so that was positive.

I had 19 miles left to Princeton and only one town, Neshkoro, remaining to go through. Between the landscape and the lighting from the setting sun, this was some of the most beautiful scenery I had gone through since the Black Hills. I saw about 20 deer including a couple that didn’t notice me until I was about 40 feet away from them. She looked up, saw me and bolted. The other deer heard the first scramble to get away and watched her for a second before gazing to the road to see what caused her flight. I was within 20 feet of her at that point. And my camera wasn’t working. The second deer ran off too and I was left to myself again. The sun had set by now, but there was still enough light in the sky to see clearly.

Finally through Neshkoro, I now had less than 10 miles to go. There wasn’t much traffic which was nice as my helmet lights were starting to fail. I hadn’t charged them since Utah, but I hadn’t used them that much either. I passed the sign welcoming me to Princeton and, much to my surprise, didn’t recognize the landscape at all. I have never approached Princeton from the northwest, I usually enter town from Montello to the south or Green Lake to the east. But then I crested a hill and saw the cemetery that my grandfather has rested in for nearly 25 years. From there I could almost get back to my grandmother’s house with my eyes closed. That’s good as it was now starting to get dark.

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud from joy as I crossed the Fox River. I wasn’t home, but this was certainly a homecoming. I rode through the three block downtown and turned the corner past the old vacant Tiger Brewery on the river. There is still a deeply embedded notion in my heart that I should acquire that building and start my restaurant there. I rode past the familiar painted logo on the building’s front which has been fading since long before I was born. From there, I could see the light in my grandma’s living room window, as her's is the first house up the street from the river. I pulled up to her front door and both of us was very glad to see the other. I was relieved that my 130+ mile day ended in a familiar bed, she was worried that I said I’d be there around sundown and that had passed. The apple pie was worth the wait though.

Day 42, Medford, WI – Princeton, WI
133.2 miles for a total of 3041.4. Wheels spun for 9:20:59 today for 250:30:59 total and a high speed of 27.3

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mile 2908.2 – On Wisconsin!

Because I hadn’t gotten nearly as far as I wanted the day before on account of the rain, I wanted to get a solid day of riding in today. So my goal for day 41 was to get from Ashland down to Medford, about 120 miles away. I managed to get myself onto the road early (for me, around 8:20am) and due to it not raining and the relatively easy terrain, I was making good time. About 11 miles outside of Ashland, I hit mile 2800 for the trip. Woo hoo, only about 1200 more miles to go!

About 25 miles into the day, I came to the town of Mellen. Mellen has something I love and wish more towns had, benches lining the main road every so often. I stopped at one of them and sat down for a short break. Mellen also has a willow tree that grew from a sprig of the willow that shades the grave of Joan of Arc, which is pretty cool. I still had a long way to go, so I continued down the road.

This part of the state actually has the oldest mountains in North America, but hundreds of millions of years of rain, wind and snow have whittled them down to unremarkable hills. They are covered with the dense forests that a century early had been thoroughly logged to produce the timber that built the west. Now most of the original sugar maple and hemlock forest is gone, but the white and red pine and have flourished, now protected as part of the Chequamegon-Nicollet National Forest.

I came to a wayside with a historical marker noting that I was now on the Great Divide. The waters north of me flowed into Lake Superior and thus eventually through the St. Lawrence and into the Atlantic. The waters south of me flow into the Mississippi and exit into the Gulf of Mexico. Given what’s going on in the gulf right now, if I was the water, I’d rather take the longer northern route. But water, for its part, obeys gravity and doesn’t get much choice in the matter.

As I sat on a picnic table eating some cold pizza, a woman drove up in her car. We talked a moment about where I was riding to and from, and she asked if I minded if she sat down and shared lunch with me. Of course not. This was Diane, who was having a frustrating day. We sat on the table, she in a pale yellow raincoat and no shoes, I still had my biking gloves still on. We talked for a long while about the area, about gasoline consumption and the frustrations of home and family. Her boyfriend owns a restaurant that is struggling to break even in the current economic climate. She lives on a large ranch and has three horses, but is employed in Pine Falls, about 50 miles away. Not wanting to leave the land she’s been on for several decades, she has no choice but to drive 100 miles a day getting to and from work. This doesn’t leave her any time to ride her horses. She told me about the terrain and towns coming up and informed be that most of the hills were now behind me. That’s always a good thing to hear. Eventually she had to get going back to work, but offered to take my picture before she left. Since I have very few pictures of myself on the trip, I assented. It was yet another of the chance encounters that have really made this journey enjoyable. Good luck with everything, Diane.

Continuing along, I was making a steady pace of about 17mph. Diane had told me that in Butternut, they had a record black bear in a glass display case. Sure enough, there was a 686lb bear that had been killed in 1968, taxidermed, and put up for display. Out of Butternut, I crossed the Flambeau River and well into the afternoon, made it to Phillip, where I had wanted to end on the rain-shortened day before. I stopped at the A&W and enjoyed some cheese curds and root beer. Mmm, fried cheese…

One of the other roadside attractions Diane suggested I check out is just south of Phillip, Fred Smith’s Concrete Park. Fred Smith could neither read nor write, but spent his life making concrete sculpture that he studded with shards of glass. Sounds dangerous to play on, yes. The larger than life-sized folk art covered topics from the natives helping the original European settlers of the area to the farmers plowing up the cleared forests, to the Budweiser wagon, loaded with casks of beer and pulled by a team of horses. It was really something to behold. I stopped for a while, but knowing I had more than 40 miles left ahead of me, didn’t stay long enough to see everything.

Further down the road, I came to a wayside where the Ice Age Trail crossed highway 13. The Ice Age Trail is a 400 mile long hiking trail that coils around from the southwest corner of the state, up through the national forests to Timm’s Hill and then east towards Lake Michigan. It is a work in progress, and eventually, they hope to complete the loop, basically encircling all of central Wisconsin. I did ride past Timm’s Hill, the highest point in the state at 1951’. Even though it lies only a couple miles east of the highway, I couldn’t see the peak over the tall pine trees along the road. Oh well.

After that, I did something that I had not yet done. I hit my second 00 mile in one day. A little more than six and a half hours after reaching mile 2800, I was now at mile 2900. Unlike mile 2800, which happened in an unremarkable cluster of birch, 2900 happened at a well defined spot, a few yards before the intersection of Highway 13 and Alfalfa Ave in the town of Whittlesey. Woo hoo, only about 1100 miles left to go!

I finally made it into Medford. While I really should have camped out for the night, between the Cubs/Brewers game and the Blackhawks playing to try to win the Stanley Cup, I wanted to find a place where I could sit down, have a couple beers and watch the game. The first motel I tried only had double rooms left for $78. That was quite a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I doubled back to the Medford Inn. Walking into the hotel office, I was greeted by a large brown dog. As it turned out, this was Moosie, who lent his name to the ice cream parlor next door. Finally a young woman came out to help me. I got a room, but the only singles she had left were on the second floor. I brought the bike in to go upstairs and she asked about my trip. Just as I was starting with ‘Well, I started in San Francisco…’, the owner walked in. They listened to my story and asked some questions, and by the end of it, the owner had offered to give me one of the doubles on the first floor instead. Perfect. I also asked where I could go to watch the games, and as it turned out his brother owned the tavern next door.

I took a quick shower and went next door, brazenly wearing my Cubs hat amid the room packed with Brewers fans. The Cubs won that game. As I was preparing to leave, one of the guys sitting at the bar asked if I wanted to do a shot, so we had a couple shots of Jameson. Since the baseball game was over, the owner changed the tv to the hockey game, in time to see the presentation of the trophies. The Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Now 4 of the 5 major sports teams in Chicago have won a championship in my lifetime. The one remaining, the one that I care about the most by far however, hasn’t won in my grandmothers’ lifetimes. Oh well. I got another round of shots to toast the Blackhawks victory, then made my way back to the room.

Day 41, Ashland, WI – Medford, WI
119.4 miles in 7:17:24. 2908.2 miles total in 241:10:00 and a top speed of 33.4