Lake Michigan Loop – Days 16-18

I had a real treat on Day 16. Our son, Alan, drove down to Escanaba from Chatham to have dinner with me. Alan is a farmer at the Michigan State University North Farm. He is one year into a two year farming program where he is growing organic vegetables and strawberries on farming land provided the the University. I enjoyed hearing about his farming experiences, and his options for working somewhere in the USA over the winter (he will not stay in Chatham between November 2016 and April 2017.

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I woke up early on Day 17 with the hopes of biking through what I thought would be a few small showers. Not! It began to rain heavily while I was at McDonalds having breakfast. The weather forecast was for rain pretty much all day. I called the hotel I had just checked out of, and they said I could come back and hang out in my room until checkout time (11am). I waited and waited, but the rain kept coming, so I decided to take a day off and stay another night in Escanab. The extra day of rest was much needed.
I have been fighting the flu since Day 7. It started as a fever for the first 4 days, then moved to my chest. I have been coughing nonstop. The good news is that I am just about recovered. This morning (Day 18), I have felt the best since Day 6. Yeah!
Hey, guess what? I had a 4T ride this morning! It was temperate, torrid, and tabular, and I had a tailwind the whole way. I averaged 15mph on a very flat road. The winds changed from the South to the West Southwest last night, bringing cool and dry air back to Michigan. What a treat. I saw a gorgeous sunrise over the Little Bay de Noc, too.

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I had my first flat today. I ran over a heavy duty staple and it punctured my rear tire. I was able to quickly change it and get back on my way. A state trooper stopped while I was repairing the tire. He stayed and kept me company until I was ready to ride again. That was a nice gesture.
I am camping at Indian Lake State Park tonight. This morning as I was riding I kept hearing in my head the song with the same name sung by the Cowsills. Appropriate song for the ending of summer I guess. It is a nice campground on the south shore of the lake.

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Lake Michigan Loop – Days 13-15

Big change in the weather last night and today. Winds changed from the north (cool and dry) to the south (warm and humid). The good news is that I will have tailwinds. The bad news is that rain and thunderstorms will be in the forecast for the nest few days. The afternoon weather forecast for Day 13 looked so bad that I decided to make a short day of riding and quickly get to Shawano WI (21 miles away) before the storms hit. Checked into a hotel by 10am. What a nice, dry place to call home as the afternoon and night storms passed over Shawano.
While resting in the hotel room and looking at the maps, I decided to make another route change. The ACA maps had me ride directly north to Conover WI before heading east to Escanaba MI. The route was inland and away from Lake Michigan. I decided to ride directly east from Shawano to Oconto, which is on the lake, and then follow MI-35 up the shoreline to Escanaba. I dodged rain showers all day on Day 14, and made it safely to Oconto. On the way, I passed a dairy farm with a little hotel for calves. I had never seen this before; I usually see calves hanging out with their moms. Must be the bovine version of a European boarding school.

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The back roads were flat and I had a tailwind; two conditions that led me to daydreaming. I was trying to figure out how to rate the level of difficulty or ease one experiences while pedaling 100 pounds of bike and gear around the roads. I came up with the Four H’s of Hell and the Four T’s of Tranquility. Bear with me now, this was harder than it looks. I even had to use a thesaurus for some of the words (you will know which ones as they are definitely not part of my daily vocabulary). Ok, here goes!
The Four H’s of Hell are Heat, Humidity, Hills and Hemorrhoids … no, no,no, just kidding. The fourth H is Headwinds. Not that hemorrhoids are to be trivialized. I am sure they must be painful. But they are not an external element that all riders experience, so I am not including them.
The Four T’s of Tranquility are Temperate, Torrid (dry like a desert), Tabular (flat like a table), and a Tangueray & Tonic … no, no, no, just kidding again. The fourth T is Tailwinds. I must admit, though, that the Tangueray & Tonic is a potent contributor to tranquility. I mean, look, it’s got TWO T’s. But the fact is that very few cyclists ride and drink T&T’s at the same time (at least not the cyclists I hang out with), so I did not put it on the list.
So there you have it. The Four H’s of Hell and Four T’s of Tranquility. As for rating a ride, not all riding conditions are all H’s or all T’s. Usually there are one or more of each. This is where it gets complicated. You see, any H cancels out any T. Yes it might be hot, but if you have a tailwind, the two cancel out and you cannot complain about the heat. So the next time someone tells you what a tough ride they had, pull out your handy dandy Bob Kissinger’s 4 H’sand 4 T’s and grill them on just how bad it really was! Or just ignore them and order another T&T.
Just as I was leaving Wisconsin, I passed a museum in Marinette. There was a life-size replica of a sled full of lumber being pulled by a team of horses. Look how small my bike is compared to the horses and lumber! There are 10,000 board feet of lumber in just this one load.

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Last night I camped at J W Wells State Park. It is located on the shores of Green Bay. It is so nice to be back along side Lake Michigan again. My campsite was right on the shore.

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Land of Cheeseheads – Days 10-12

While overnighting at a hotel in Ludington, for some reason I decided to change my itinerary and go clockwise around the lake, instead of counter clockwise. This means that I needed to catch the 8:30am ferry from Ludington to Manitowoc on Day 10. I was up early enough to arrive at the ferry terminal one hour before departure (a “must follow” rule I was told too many times when making the reservation the previous night).

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It was an easy boarding process: I just walked my bike onto the ferry and one of the ferry workers escorted my to the place where bikes are parked. After securing my bike, I went through security and then up two flights of stairs to the main cabin.

Named the Badger, this is a pretty big ferry. It is a coal fired steamer built in the early 1950’s to ferry loaded railroad cars across Lake Michigan. It was remodeled in the 1990’s to become a car/people ferry. You can pass the four hour cruise time by eating, watching a movie, sleeping in private cabins (you pay extra for these), or sitting out on the deck enjoying the sun.

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The deboarding process was just as easy. I was escorted to my bike, I walked it off of the boat, and I was on my way.
Welcome to the Land of the Cheesheads! It was immediately obvious the I had crossed more than just a state line. The blueberry, apple and asparagus fields were replaced with dairy farms and Lutheran churches. Now I know where all the cheese  (and Lutherans) come from. I passed quite a few freshly cut fields of alfalfa. I love that smell. Reminds me of my high school days working for the Green family in Grangeville ID. We would stack a lot of alfalfa hay bales each summer.

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Always on the lookout for interesting yard art, I had to stop and take a picture of this horse. It was standing in front of a car body repair shop. It is made out of stainless steel parts from cars and motorcycles. Very flashy in the sun, yes?

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Last night I camped at River’s Edge Campground on the Wolf River near Leeman WI. Throughout the day and evening I made the acquaintance of a particular frog. He stayed right outside my tent pretty much the entire time. There were lots of flies around the river bank, so I think he must have been successfully catching flies so as not to have look elsewhere. This also might mean my tent was attracting a lot of flies!

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Lake Michigan Loop – Days 6-9

Lake Ho! At 6 days and 350 miles into my ride, I got my first good view of Lake Michigan. That deserves a wee little smile, don’t you think?

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One of the campsites I visited while riding through Indiana was Rising Sun Campground on the Tippecanoe River. For touring cyclists, this is a great place to camp. Ken and Angela Tolson let cyclists stay for free! My tent site included water and electric, and the campground has showers and a pool. Ken even offered to bring me some firewood if I wanted a fire. Definitely plan an overnight stop at Rising Sun if you are biking in the area.

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I really get a kick out of seeing the different “Yard Art” that people put in their front yards. My Chinese sign is a rooster, so you can bet I was blown away by the ten foot tall rooster in front of a farmer’s yard. Look at the size of that thing! I wonder if I could talk Michiko into letting me put one like that in our front yard ….

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I was asked about the equipment I was using on this bike ride, so here is a quick summary of my gear. My bike is a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I have added fenders and front and rear Surly racks. I have Arkel front and rear waterproof panniers, front handlebar bag, and rear rack bag. You might call me a riding advertisement for Arkel. The bike weighs about 32 pounds, and the additional gear weighs 60-70 pounds, so I am pushing about 100 pounds up and down the roads.

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It is great to be riding along the Lake Michigan coastline. The little harbor towns have their own unique character (as opposed to the corn and soybean fields of Indiana), and the variety of big and small boats is fun to see. While eating lunch in Pentwater, a private fishing boat pulled into the dock after a morning fishing trip. They caught quite a few King and Coho salmon. One of the crew was transferring the fish into a large cooler.

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Lake Michigan Loop – Days 4-5

Early on the morning of the 4th day, I reached Denver IN and started using the ACA maps. It is so nice to have a picture of the route in front of me. To the left of the map segments, there are written instructions on when to turn left or right. I have to be very careful not to get too interested in reading the information while riding. It is worse than texting and driving a car! I do not want to have another spill.
It gets a little monotonous riding on pancake-flat roads that go straight for 10-15 miles. I was daydreaming when all of a sudden I came to Toto Road.

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Did I fall asleep at the wheel and ride all the way to Kansas? I had better ask someone quickly. Luckily there was a munchkin from the Lollipop Guild nearby, so I asked him if I was in Kansas. No, he replied, but he said he could whip up a tornado in no time that would fly me there post haste. I cordially declined, and continued riding down an endless Indiana farm road.
Are these animals goats?

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No. They are naked sheep! They were just sheared within the last few days. I bet they are enjoying their new-found freedom. With temperatures in the 90’s and humidity levels at 70-80%, running around with no clothes on is the only way to go (if you are a sheep, that is).
I finished the 5th day’s ride at La Porte IN. It is a hotel night – Yeehawww! I am staying at the Blue Heron, which is located on the shore of Pine Lake. Here is the view from the pool. This hotel thing could get addictive!

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Rumor is tomorrow I will see the waters of Lake Michigan for the first time. Come back to see if it’s true.

Lake Michigan Loop – Days 1-3

The North Lakes Route from the Adventure Cycling Association starts in Denver IN. To get there, I used Google Maps and selected a bicycle as the mode of transportation to map out the 200 miles from Montgomery to Denver. The route was very good, except for a six mile stretch on Day 3 in Indiana, but I will get to that a little later.
On Day 1 I left home at 8am, and navigated through the smaller towns north of Cincinnati. I had only gone maybe 5 miles, and had a run-in with a very high curb. I ended up falling over (with my shoes still clipped to the bike), and tore a small hole in one of my panniers. I was so embarrassed! But as the old adage goes: if you fall off your horse (in this case my bike), get back on and keep riding. And that’s what I did! Made it to Richmond IN, and camped at the KOA there.
For Days 2-3, I was able to ride about half of the total miles on Rail-to-Trail bike paths, including the Cardinal Greenway, Sweetser Switch Trail, and the Nickel Plate Trail. While on the Cardinal Greenway, a thunderstorm was threatening, so I turned off the trail and found some shelter in Economy IN. I would never know these small towns exist if it wasn’t for biking the backroads of America.

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As I mentioned earlier, Google Maps failed me only once. I was out in the corn and soybean fields of Indiana when the road changed from blacktop to dirt/gravel (bike routes should not include gravel roads IMHO). At the same time, a huge storm hit me. I saw a man in his garage so I rode up his driveway and asked if I could hang out in his garage while the storm passed. He was very gracious. I stayed dry and he gave me a cup of coffee. But the dirt road was another story. It was muddy and slippery after the storm. I had to ride on about 3 miles of the stuff. By the time I got back to pavement, my bike and bags were a mess. I decided to stay at a hotel that night and used their water hose to wash everything off. Here is what my hotel room looked like as I laid everything out to dry from the previous night’s rain showers.

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Bicycling Around Lake Michigan

Pre-Trip Preparation
I officially retired on July 1st, 2016. What better way to celebrate than to go on the longest self-supported bicycle trip that I have experienced – about 30 days. I will leave from my home in Montgomery OH on the morning of Thursday, August 25th, and bike a 1,500 mile loop around Lake Michigan. I should be back home by September 25th. This trip will be a good warmup for my attempt to bike across America next spring. I could not do these trips if it were not for the support and “blessing” of my wife, Michiko. Thanks, my love!
Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) has a fantastic library of maps, describing over 40,000 miles of bicycle routes in North America. I ordered the North Lakes map set of three maps. Each map contains about 500 miles of turn-by-turn directions and camping/eating/lodging suggestions.

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My route takes me north from home to Denver IN, where the ACA mapped route begins.  I will then head north towards Lake Michigan. I will go counter-clockwise around Lake Michigan, first heading north along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Ludington and Mackinaw City, then west to Escanaba and Conover, then south to Manitowoc, ferry east across Lake Michigan to Ludington, and then retrace my route south back home.

To get in shape for the trip, I joined the Cincinnati Cycle Club (3C). It is the oldest cycling club in America, established in 1880. The club has many different rides throughout the week. I am biking 100-120 miles per week, which will be enough to get my legs in shape for the 50-60 miles per day I hope to complete throughout the journey. I definitely need the training because it is a challenge to move 100 pounds of bike and gear up and down the hills.
Safety is always a concern with me. I ride with a rear blinking red light, and a front blinking white light. I decided to buy some very bright cycling jerseys to help car and truck drivers see me better. The jerseys are called SEE ME WEAR. Can you see me? No,really. Can you SEE ME?!?!

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My next blog should be posted from somewhere north of Montgomery OH. Stay tuned!

Mammoth Caves – Overnight Bicycle Trip

 

Saturday, April 23, 2016
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For those familiar with the TransAmerica Bike Trail, there is an option to take a side trip (it’s really a loop) to Mammoth Caves National Park. I followed this loop for a two day bike tour, leaving Hodgenville KY on Saturday morning, biking 46 miles to Mammoth Caves Campground, and completing the loop on Sunday by biking 48 miles back to Hodgenville.

I departed from Hodgenville on Saturday morning at 7:30am. Very light traffic and a cool, overcast morning made for a perfect ride to Cave City KY (about 9 miles shy of the park).
The Kentucky countryside this time of year is simply gorgeous. The redbud is just past its peak, and the dogwood has started to bloom. The deciduous trees are just starting to fill out with new leaves, and the local wildlife is waking up after the cold winter. I don’t know about you, but for me the sound of robins and cardinals singing in the early morning let me know Spring has finally arrived.

Upon entering Cave City, it was like turning the clock back to the 1950’s or 60’s. Tourist attractions crowd the road on both sides.
You can stay overnight in an air conditioned teepee..

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You can play putt putt golf at Jellystone Park.

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You can shop for antiques and gem stones at stores that try to attract you with not-your-every-day yard decorations.

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And if you are really adventurous, you can sneak around in the woods to get a glimpse of some really big and ferocious Kentucky wildlife!

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Despite all of these attractions and distractions, I finally completed the last 9 miles of the day, and arrived at Mammoth Caves Campground. The facility is top notch. It is one of the best maintained and clean campgrounds I have stayed at. I set up camp, took a shower, and then got busy making dinner. Take a look ….. Pad Thai noodles with steamed broccoli, sautéed onions and spicy peanut sauce.

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Throughout the afternoon and evening, there were many yellow and black striped butterflies flying around my campsite. I think they were eastern tiger swallowtails.

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As the sun set, I started a fire, and enjoyed the last sunlight of the the day.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016
I got up before sunrise on Sunday, ate breakfast, packed my bags, and set out for my return trip to Hodgenville. Just before leaving the park, I got to ride a small ferry across the Green River.

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In my four years riding my bike around the Kentucky countryside, there is one resident that I have seen almost every time – the turkey buzzard. Because there are so many deer and rodents killed by cars, the buzzards never go hungry. I spotted one eying me as I labored up a steep hill. I think he was hoping I would get hit by a car so that he could break the monotony of dining on venison and opossum.

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It is nice to know that there are other modes of transportation that are as slow and deliberate as riding a bike. There is a large Amish community in Munfordville KY. This family was probably on their way to church.

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I made it safely back to my car in Hodgenville by 1pm. What a great weekend. If you think you might enjoy an overnight camping trip by bicycle, please give it a try. Who knows, you may like it so much that you will start thinking about riding the entire TransAmerica Trail. That’s what happened to me!

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway – Day 7

It is 5:30am on a cold and windy Saturday morning, and I am so warm and comfortable in my sleeping bag. The wind blowing through the trees sounds exactly like waves crashing on a beach. The strong wind gusts are the crashing waves, and the ever present breeze sounds like the receding surf. I never knew there would be an Appalachian Seaside on my journey!
I finally force myself out of bed to start the last and most challenging day of my trip. Over 6000 feet of climbing, all occurring in the first 30 miles of the final 52 mile leg. I started the morning with my usual breakfast: oatmeal with raisins, peanut butter, brown sugar and a dash of vanilla, and a cup of fresh brewed coffee from my one-cup french press. Breakfast of champions! Below is a picture of my campsite. I was not able to get a picture yesterday before it got dark, so I took a picture this morning just before leaving the campsite.

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I climbed my way to Mount Mitchell State Park, and took the side road to the summit. But first, I removed my panniers and hid them in the woods, to be picked up after my assault on the mountain. 45 minutes later, I completed the 4.5 miles to the top. I had my picture taken, just to prove I am as foolish as I look!

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Where do you go after you soak in the view from the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6684 feet? Downhill, of course! The last section of my ride to Asheville was all downhill, with speeds of 30-35mph for miles at a time. Just picture the dog with his head out of the window. I pulled into the Asheville motel at 5:30pm, showered, and called Michiko to find out when she would be arriving (about 6:30pm). Thanks again, Michiko, for taking the time to drive to Aseville to pick me up.
My bike odometer showed 303 miles, a few more than I had anticipated, but I could not be more happier. I just completed the most challenging, but satisfying, bike ride of my life!