Undergrond Railroad Bicycle Tour

It’s finally warm enough for my first bicycle tour of 2017. Yeah! No more winter rides with three layers of clothing to protect me from the cold. No more spinning in a stuffy room going nowhere. I was able to bike about 600 miles since January, so my legs are ready to go.
My plan is to ride a portion of the Adventure Cycling Association Underground Railroad Bike Route. I will leave my house in Cincinnati and bike to Erie PA, and include the Pittsburgh Spur. From Pittsburgh, I will ride US Bike Route 50 to Columbus OH, then retrace my route back to Cincinnati. It should be about 900 miles round trip, and take me three weeks to complete.


The UGRR route follows one of the many paths used by slaves as they fled the South in search of freedom. The entire route of 2006 miles starts at Mobile AL and ends at Owen Sound ON.

To learn more about the Underground Railroad, I went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center with my wife, Michiko, and daughter, Jennifer. We are lucky to have this gem in our community. This was my second time visiting the Freedom Center, but it was just as emotional as the first time. I will never be able to fully grasp the pain, suffering, humiliation and death that was heaped upon slaves in this country. I get angry when I hear whites say that it is time for African Americans to “get over” the past. So easily said, but oh such an ignorant statement! Slavery was established in the US in the 1600’s. Generation after generation of African American families suffered this abomination. We are talking about 300 years of bondage. Despite the ending of slavery after the Civil War, African Americans have had to endure prejudice and segregation. My simple arithmetic says that it won’t be until the year 2300 when there has been enough time for healing to occur. The healing will happen a lot faster when I accept that my ancestors were responsible for perpetuating slavery and prejudice, and I sincerely ask the African American community to forgive me for this sin.


I look forward to stopping at all of the points of interest along the route from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. If all goes according to plan, I will leave home the day after Mothers Day (May 15). Please follow my blog as I explore Ohio and Pennsylvania on a bicycle built for one (and a lot of stuff).
P.S. Some of you might be wondering why I am not biking across the USA this spring. So goes the best laid plans. We are in the midst of remodeling our house, so I am postponing the cross country trip to 2018. This change in plans will allow me to take another bike tour this fall. I will bike through the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

Breaking In A Brooks B17 Standard Leather Bicycle Saddle

The biggest challenge I face on my bicycle touring adventures is trying to keep my butt pain-free, especially those last few hours of a long day of cycling. It is not my legs that give out, or my neck/arms/wrists getting too tired. It is my butt telling me in no uncertain terms that it is going to call the Butt Protection Agency if I do not stop immediately. Something had to change, and it was not going to be my butt!

I have tried many different saddles. To date, the most comfortable saddle for me is the ISM Adamo Prologue. I have it on both my road bike and touring bike. It is great for rides up to 3 hours, but can be uncomfortable for longer rides. I have read many stories about the legendary Brooks line of leather saddles. They have been making bicycle saddles for 150 years, so there are a LOT of stories. It appears you either love their products, or you hate them with a passion. I was desperate, so I decided to try their classic touring model, the B17 Standard.

Out of the box, the saddle leather is hard as a rock. The challenge is to break the saddle in, meaning the leather is supposed to become pliable, and start to conform to the shape of your butt. More specifically, it will mold to your sit (or sitz) bones. If this takes too long, the rider quickly becomes one of the “haters”. I had measured the distance between my sit bones using a cardboard technique I found on the web, so I knew the B17 Standard has the correct width for my anatomy. Now the critical question: How long will it take to break this puppy in?

There are some very aggressive approaches to softening the leather of a bicycle seat. These include soaking the seat in water, followed by smearing large amounts of mink oil or neatsfoot oil on the top and underside of the leather saddle. The risk with this approach is that the leather can become too pliable, and it will quickly stretch beyond the capacity of the nose bolt tensioning system to keep the leather taught. If this happens, the saddle is worthless. At the other extreme, applying small amounts of Proofide (Brooks recommended leather dressing) to the saddle leather every six months may require 1000 or more miles before the leather is softened enough to become comfortable. I chose a middle ground approach.

I decided to only use Proofide as a leather dressing, so that I would not over-soften the leather. I pre- heated my oven on the LOW setting for 15 minutes (I am guessing the temperature to be about 120- 130F), then placed the saddle on a cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. When I removed the saddle, the leather was warm to the touch, but not hot. I then coated the top and underside of the saddle with almost all of the Proofide that came in a small foil package along with the saddle. I let the saddle sit for 24 hours, buffed the top surface, installed the saddle on my Surly Long Haul Trucker, and went for a 20 minute ride. The leather was still hard as a rock, but the overall comfort of the saddle was not too bad. I decided to repeat the above heat/apply/age process, but this time I put more Proofide (from a 25g tin I ordered separately) on the underside of the saddle in the areas where my sit bones would contact the top saddle surface. After 24 hours, I placed the saddle on a smooth, hard surface, and started kneading the wide part of the saddle with the heel of my right hand. The sides of the saddle would flair out as I did this. I also kneaded the narrower part of the saddle where the three vent holes are located. I did this once a day for three days. The leather was definitely starting to soften up.

I have since ridden on the saddle for two 25 mile rides and one 42 mile jaunt, and I think I am going to love this saddle. The leather is soft enough to conform somewhat to my butt, and also absorb some of the bumps in the road. In a week I will go on a three week, 1000 mile tour. I will let you know how the saddle and I are getting along.

A few words on attaching the saddle to the bike. I ended up moving the B17 saddle much farther forward compared to the position of the ISM Adamo Prologue (at least 1-2 inches). I also used a level to be sure that the B17 was dead on level from front to back. These adjustments seemed to improve the comfort of the saddle. I can now ride in the drop position (hands on lower part of drop handlebars) and on top of the bars for many miles in total comfort.

Japan 2016

In early October, a Buddist memorial service had been arranged for my wife’s (Michiko) mother, grandmother and aunt. We planned a trip to Nagoya, Japan to attend the memorial service, and tour Japan after the ceremony. Two of our adult children, Jennifer and Alan, also accompanied us.
We arrived at the Buddist temple in Nagoya on Sunday, October 9th. The main temple was recently rebuilt, and was beautifully framed with large cedar beams. The distinct smell of fresh cedar gave the temple a feeling of being connected to the forests of bamboo and evergreen trees surrounding the temple. The memorial service took place in an adjacent temple. The alter was filled with ancient artifacts, including a statue of Buddha that was one thousand years old.

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Most of Michiko’s family from Tokyo, Nagoya and Detroit attended the ceremony, followed by lunch at an udon restaurant near the Nagoya train station. It was a time to visit and share, as we do not get a chance to see Michiko’s family in Japan very often.
On Monday, we started our two week adventure in Japan. Michiko was our tour director. She had spent many hours creating our itinerary, with help from Alan. It was a combination of visiting her home town of Kyoto, checking out major tourist attractions, and going to prefectures where Michiko’s ancestors originated. Here is a quick summary of our adventures:
Nakasendo Highway – The Nakasendo Highway is a walking trail that connected Edo and Kyoto. We walked the 6km between Otsumago and Magome. It was a beautiful mountain trail with waterfalls and alpine vistas.

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Toba/Ise – Toba is the home of Michiko’s grandmother. It is famous for it’s cultured pearls. We went to the pearl museum on Pearl Island, and watched a special pearl diving demonstration by Ama divers. On the train ride back to Nagoya, we stopped at Ise to visit the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan.
Hiroshima – We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum. For me, it was very emotional. War causes so much death and suffering. Innocent civilians so often bear the brunt of war’s destruction. Below is a picture of the Cenotaph Memorial, which includes a stone tomb that contains the names of over 220,000 who died as a result of the atomic bomb. In the background is the A-Dome.

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Matsuyama – We bathed at the Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest and most famous Japanese bath houses, and we toured the Matsuyama Castle high on top of a mountain. What a view of Matsuyama!

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Kochi – Kochi is the home of Michiko’s ancestors. We visited the Kochi farmers market, a 326 year old tradition that is 2km long and the oldest outdoor market in Japan. It takes many hours to visit all of the market stalls. I bought figs and homemade daifuku (omochi with sweet beans inside) to snack on during our many train rides.
Kyoto – Visited the bamboo forest at Arashiyama with the kids. Beautiful walk along the cool, shaded paths.

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Kobe – Visited with Michiko’s aunt, had lunch near the Kobe harbor, and rode to the top of the Kobe Tower to get a panoramic view of Kobe.
Tokyo – Our last city to visit before flying back home. We had dinner with Michiko’s brother and his family at a soba restaurant. We seldom see his family, so it was a treat to visit with them again. Throughout our trip, we were constantly dodging bicycles. It is a very popular mode of transportation. I only wish we would do more daily bicycling in the USA.

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Four years ago, Michiko traveled to Japan on her own (a bucket list item for her). She stayed mostly in hostels to save on cost (rates are $30-$40 per night per person). When making plans for the 2016 trip, she made reservations at the same or similar hostels that she had used four years ago. I must admit that I was very tentative about the accommodations. I envisioned large dormitories with rows of bunk beds, and youngsters up all night partying and whatnot. Well, I was completely wrong. The Japanese hostels were extremely comfortable. Because we were a group of four, we had private rooms with either two bunk beds or four futons laid out on tatami mats. Do try out a hostel in Japan. You might be pleasantly surprised like I was.

Lake Michigan Loop – Post Script

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What did I learn while biking, cooking, eating and sleeping solo for 30 days? One thing I learned was that I if I bike across the USA sometime in the future, I will not do it alone. I think these adventures are meant to be shared, despite the tensions that arise when two or more people try to get along in close quarters for an extended period of time. My next challenge will be trying to find someone who can put up with me and my quirky nature for more than a day or two.
I know that I am hooked on bicycle touring. It is a unique mode of travel that gives me the freedom to go at a slower pace. It attracts curious passers-by. I have never been approached by so many strangers asking me where I was from, and where I was going. Then we would talk for sometimes 20 or 30 minutes about all sorts of things. What’s the rush?
There were a few discoveries on my trip that I thought I would share with you.
1. “And God rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Ok, so God is a lot smarter than me. My first day of rest was on Day 10, with only one more rest day on Day 17. One day of rest each week is a good thing. I mean, if was good for God, it should be good for me, too. Right?
2. The state of Michigan is made entirely of sand. Mountains of sand 1000 feet tall. Sand is everywhere. Be very careful. Bicycle tires do not turn well in sand. You may fall over and hurt yourself. I did. Twice.
3. Do not use the Cricket tone on your iPhone as an alarm. The real crickets and cicadas are much louder and they will drown it out. You may miss something important, like the reminder to call your wife.
4. Bicycle touring is an “all you can eat” diet. I ate seven or eight times a day, and still lost eight pounds. Second breakfast was my favorite meal of the day. Is it possible to fit a third breakfast into the morning hours?
5. The weather radar ap is the most valuable function of a smartphone. It is dangerous to ride a bike on a busy road in the rain. Knowing that a storm is imminent and being able to find a warm, dry place to wait it out is priceless. Just make sure that the warm, dry place serves food, coffee and/or alcohol.
Well, there you have it. I have no more words of wisdom. Take care, and thanks again for tuning into my little show on wheels.

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Lake Michigan Loop – Days 28-30

The morning of Day 28 took an unexpected turn. I had checked the weather the night before, and the forecast predicted cloudy but dry conditions. As I packed up my gear in the morning, a nearby camper told me that a big storm was coming from the west. I checked my smartphone weather radar and sure enough, a monster storm was approaching. Could I make it to the nearest town 8 miles away before it arrived? Only one way to find out. Off I went as fast as an almost 60 year old fart can go dragging 100 pounds of “home sweet home” with me.
In times like this, when I am in a hurry to bike somewhere, I always get the same image in my head. I see Almira Gulch, the spinster in the Wizard of Oz, riding her bicycle down a country road. She has just taken Toto away from Dorothy and is riding to town to “dispose” of the dog for biting her. The music score for this part of the movie is perfect for how I was feeling: rushed, frazzled, and not sure what was going to happen.
Well, I made it to a Starbucks in Grand Haven just before the storm hit. It took three hours for the storm to pass. By that time I was fully charged after consuming two large soy milk lattes and a slice of lemon pound cake. On the road again at 11:30am, I felt lucky to have dogged the storm, staying warm and dry.
Throughout my journey, I have passed so many miles of wild flowers which have started to bloom. Most people would call these flowers weeds. Whatever you want to call them, they are still beautiful and have given me much pleasure from their color and variety.

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I had my first Zen experience on Day 29. Let me explain. So many of my thoughts are judgements based on opposites: good vs. bad, light vs. dark, downhill vs. uphill, or tailwind vs. headwind. Perhaps the biggest polarity of my bike trip was “butt vs. saddle”! It was not my leg strength or aerobic conditioning that would give out and make me consider stopping for the day. It was my butt crying our for a little compassion. The messages were pretty intense. “Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to you to deserve such punishment? Get me off of this saddle now!” Would I ever reach a point during my trip where butt and saddle would finally make peace? Well, it happened on Day 29. I biked for 63 miles and never once got a complaint from my posterior. Butt and saddle had finally become the best of friends. I cannot tell you how satisfying this was. It was one-derful!
Ok, I admit it. I am soooo envious of the farmer who has erected the 10 foot high rooster in his front yard. I had to take another picture of the masterpiece, this time with my bike in the foreground so that you can see I was not exaggerating about the size of the bird. I am also officially changing my website icon image from a hummingbird to the rooster. And cockadootledoo to you, too!

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Day 30 is the official last day of my adventure. I arrived in La Porte IN safe and sound after completing 1420 miles of circumnavigating Lake Michigan (sans Chicago). Michiko is driving up from Cincinnati to pick me up and take me home. Thanks for following my adventures! I will post one more blog in a day or two where I will try to summarize the things I learned while biking solo for 30 days. One last photo from the flight deck of my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I am going to miss this unique vantage point.

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P.S. I cannot thank Michiko enough for allowing me to take this trip. It is very hard on her to be left alone to manage the house, yard and all other administrative duties. It is somewhat selfish of me to take off for 30 days. Time to start paying her back for all of her support!

Lake Michigan Loop – Days 25-27

I am enjoying the views and campsites along the lake. Yesterday afternoon I camped at Platte River Campground which is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I rode my bike two miles from camp along the river to the lake. What a gorgeous view! In the distance I could see Sleeping Bear Dunes and Empire Bluffs. At the mouth of the Platte River, there were fishermen catching salmon, and lots of people swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding. Great place to visit if you have the time.

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Just one mile north of Arcadia, I stopped at a scenic lookout, and boy was I glad I did. There was a stairway with about two hundred stairs leading to a platform. I climbed the stairs (like I need more exercise), and found the best view of Lake Michigan so far. What do you think?

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It’s apple picking time in Michigan. All of the apple trees I have passed were loaded with fruit.

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I passed a fruit stand in front of an old farmhouse because I saw a lot of pear trees. Sure enough, they had Bartlett pears, along with three or four different varies of apples, and plums. They were selling everything by the bushel, but I only wanted one pear and one plum. After I picked out the two pieces of fruit, the owners told me to keep my money. What a nice gesture! Turns out the lady grew up in Xenia. We talked about how the Cincinnati/Dayton area has changed so much over the last 30 years. She is very happy to be living in the fruit orchards of west central Michigan.
I have been blessed with many tailwinds along the trip. My luck ran out on Day 26. On the ride from Manistee to Pentwater, the winds from the south started to pick up. By the time I got to Ludington, they were 14mph, with gusts up to 24mph. I knew I was in for a tough ride when I passed a wind farm. All the wind turbines were turned in the direction I was headed, and they were turning around very fast. It was a challenge to ride against the headwind. I would curse and swear for a few minutes, then ride a mile. I would curse and swear again, and ride another mile. Trees were my saviors. Anything to help break the power of the wind.
I reached Pentwater in an exhausted state. I set up camp at Charles Mears State Park. The park has a beautiful sandy beach, so I changed into my swim trunks and took an invigorating swim. This was my first full immersion baptism in Lake Michigan since starting my trip. Definitely what I needed, and I left the water feeling much better.
On Day 27, most of my ride was on the Hart-Montague Trail, a well maintained 27mile rail-to-trail path. There was also a bike path through Muskegon. Lots of pretty fowers in bloom along the path.

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1000 Miles! Days 22-24

On Day 22 I reached 1000 miles! This is a milestone for me. The longest bicycle trip I had previously taken was seven days and about 330 miles on the Natchez Trace in 2014.
I am camping about two thirds of the nights and staying In motels the other third. Mostly I stay in a motel to avoid bad weather, and there have been quite a few major storms moving through Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan during my travels. It rained last night, so I stayed in a motel in Traverse City. First time I have slept in a shed! Fully furnished of course.

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I am doing my own cooking when I camp. My dinner is a rotation of three basic dishes. There is your good old cowboy grub of rice and beans (with sauté onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes).

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Next I will make a coconut milk curry with onions, garlic, potatoes, peas and rice.

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Finally, I will make a Thai rice noodle dish with broccoli, onions, garlic, and a spicy peanut/lime/soy sauce.

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Usually there is enough dinner left over to have it cold for breakfast. If there are no leftovers, then I will make oatmeal and add peanut butter, raisins, vanilla flavoring and brown sugar.
Lunches are simple affairs. I always have flour tortillas, and will make burritos with retried beans or hummus. I put corn chips inside the burrito, or eat them on the side.

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It sees like I am always eating! Every hour, I will stop to eat a banana, cliff bar or trail mix. If the timing is right, I will stop at a little café for a second breakfast. On Day 23, I stopped at the Harbor Café in Elk Rapids MI for my second breakfast, and was drawn to their long list of stuffed french toast. I ordered the BMW (banana, maple sauce and walnuts). Wow, what a load of calories! And they served real maple syrup, too. It was a challenge, but I finished the whole plate.

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Because bicycling is so quite, I am able to come up on wildlife and get quite close before they realize I am there. Just this morning, I rode by a tom turkey and about 20 hens. They were not scared away by my presence, and I watched them for quite a while before they move away from the road.

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I passed a “yard art in progress”. I have no idea what the final wood carving will be, so I guess I will have to come back in a few years to see what the artist has in mind.

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Lake Michigan Loop – Days 19-21

The ride across the Upper Peninsula is on US 2, which is very flat, and most of the route is inland from Lake Michigan. Not a lot of scenery as I pedaled the 150 miles (3 days) from Escanaba to St. Ignace. Luckily, I had a tailwind the whole way. I averaged 15-16 mph, which is really flying for me, but not as fast as the cars, RV’s, semi’s and logging trucks. There was a constant stream of traffic passing me going both ways.
As you saw in the posted video from Epoufette, a heavy downpour kept me off the roads on Day 20 until 11:30am. By that time the roads were dry enough for me to finish the last 30 miles to St. Ignace to catch the 2pm ferry to Mackinac Island. It was an easy process to buy a ticket, drop my bike at the loading bay, and enjoy the 30 minute ride to the island.

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It is obvious something is missing when you walk up the dock to Mackinac Island. No cars! Only horse drawn carriages and bicycles. What a nice change from US 2! I had lunch, then biked the 8 miles around the island, checked out the downtown shops, then boarded the 5pm ferry to Mackinaw City. Click on link below to see a short video of the island.

Mackinac Island
Day 21 turned out to be one of the most spectacular bike rides I have experienced. The route left Mackinaw City and followed the coastline past Wilderness State Park and the Tunnel of Trees Scenic Highway (M-119). The sandy beaches and highway were deserted, so I had the whole coastline to myself. M-119 follows the 200-300 feet high bluffs along the shore, and is a narrow paved road that winds up, down and around the hills and rivers. If you have the time, take this side road which connects Mackinaw City and Petoskey.

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I had to take a detour from the ACA route about halfway along M -119. The route took me inland, and I had to tackle some pretty steep hills. My wife, Michiko, always tells me that getting lost or having to detour are the times when you discover life’s little treasures. Being a Type A engineer, it is hard for me to agree with this philosophy’s, but she is absolutely correct. Just as I got to the top of a particularly long and steep hill, there was a vineyard and winery. Time for a wine tasting! I ended up buying a bottle of wine, which I enjoyed for the next two nights.

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Can a Type A person become a Type B person? I think retirement might help me with the transition.
I want one of these Bigfoot’s for my front yard to keep my ten foot high rooster company.

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