By THOM GREEEN
I just completed a nearly 500-mile bicycle trip from Minnesota to my sister’s cottage in Michigan. This is probably stating the obvious, but I am glad it is over. Sitting on a cushy chair while I type feels much better than my bike seat, but still, I am very glad I did it.
While growing up in Morenci, bicycle touring became an interest due to the trips my oldest brother, the editor, completed after his college days. I did a couple of bike tours in high school with friend and local legend, Pat Clark, including a trip circumnavigating Lake Huron. Seven years later, I rode from my home in Minnesota to Lansing after buying a $250 Fuji road bike. These rides were rewarding and a good source of stories. Twenty-nine years after the last trip, with the same bike, I decided it was time to pedal again.
Following is a list of high points and low points from the trip. First, a few of the high points:
• Planning the Trip: I may have had more fun planning the trip than the actually trip. I spent many a winter night pouring over Google maps. They now even have Google bicycle maps with recommended bike routes. I don’t own a smart phone, so besides my bike being “vintage,” I would travel with “old-fashioned” paper maps and hand-written notes.
• Having someone waiting for you: Knowing there was someone with an air-conditioned room waiting for you at the end of a long day’s ride was motivating. I managed to stay with a mother of a friend, a “couch surfing” family (people I found on the internet who are willing to share their home with travelers), and with friends. I put in two 90-mile plus days, and both rides were on days when I was motivated knowing I had a cool destination. I was always welcomed and well cared for, and I hope to “pass it on” when I have the chance.
• Pancakes and Malts: Refueling each morning with a stack of pancakes and stopping in the afternoon for chocolate malt was a treat. This will be a hard habit to break.
• Rails to Trails: Nearing Lacrosse I started my run of nearly 90 miles of Wisconsin “Rail to Trail”—former railroad tracks turned to bike trails. The surface was crushed limestone, which slowed me down somewhat, but it was good to get off of the highway. Much of the trails were tree lined, giving me shade from the intense sun.
Sparta-Elroy Trail: Since it’s a former railroad, there’s a maximum grade of four percent. In order to achieve this, the railroad companies were forced to drill three tunnels through the hills in the 1870s. One of the tunnels is three-fourths of a mile long and requires bikers to use a flashlight. It is an eerie feeling walking your bike in total darkness with drips of water seeping off the ceiling. The temperature is a constant 55° which made me consider setting up my tent in the middle of the tunnel to escape the heat.
Wisconsin Scenery: The bucolic rolling hills and bluffs of Wisconsin was my favorite scenery of the trip. At one point on the trail, I was paralleling an Amish horse drawn buggy on the road next to me. I was slightly outpacing the horse.
The following are some of the low points.
Crash Number One: At my first water stop, I was crossing a bit of grass that was soft and it brought my 57 pounds of bike and equipment to a quick halt. After two months of no trouble using my toe clips, I was unable to remove my foot, and down I crashed, nothing hurt but my pride. Two miles later, at an intersection in the middle of a road, the same thing happened, my foot was stuck, and down I fell. I quickly pulled my bike to the roadside to let a truck go by, then “pop!” I looked in the road and my prescription sunglasses were in pieces. Not only that, but the cleat of the shoe remained lodged into the pedal, preventing me from locking into the pedal. This was not the start I had imagined.
Crash Number two: I just began crossing the Rock River on one of the many old train trestles. This was one of the most dramatic as it rose about 50 feet above the river. The DNR often places a sheet of rubber in the middle of the wooden planks for bikers to reduce the bumps. I noticed the rubber was wet from a short rainfall the night before, and figured I might as well ride on the wood.
As I made the slight turn, my tire slid on the slick rubber and my bike crashed on the bridge. I was making an assessment of any injuries when I heard a loud splash in the river far below me. I was terrified to look at my bike; envisioning one of my panniers had been knocked off my bike and was currently making its way to the bottom of the river. Fortunately, it was just my water bottle. My bike survived the crash with no problems and I escaped with only a scrape and few bruises.
My Rear: Three days of biking took a toll on my rear end. Chafing and heat rash were the culprits. This became my biggest grievance of the trip, even beating out the heat and exhaustion.
I am thinking I gained enough stories to last me another 29 years. I’ll be 83 then, hopefully not too old for another adventure.