Minnesota to NY Trip

In a nutshell…

On Monday, August 9th, 2004 , I, on my bike pulling a BOB (Beast of Burden) trailer, began pedaling east from Onalaska Wisconsin (just across the border from Minnesota).    I pedaled for a few rainy days across Wisconsin until I bumped into Lake Michigan.  The S.S. Badger ferried me across the lake.  After another four days of pedaling I had traversed the state of Michigan and crossed the border into Canada.  Three more days of pedaling until near Toronto, Lake Ontario appeared in my path.  A very new, big and fast Ferry boat floated me across the lake to Rochester NY.   I pedaled some more until I arrived home (Syracuse NY).   12 days.  968 miles.  Much fun.  

I took some pictures along the way.  Riding rural doesn’t necessarily make for exciting pictures.  It’s hard to capture the big and open and quiet and cool and calm and …  Ah heck, enough excuses… just go take a look and you’ll either like them or not.  The important thing to remember is that they do not do justice to the ride.  ( Peek at the Pictures )

If the nutshell summary was a bit too brief and left you wanting for more, then read on ...

The Plan

After last year’s (absolutely excellent!) ride, I knew I wanted to do another.  In the American spirit of bigger-better-faster I was looking to up the mileage (and/or the days) from last year’s trip of 350 miles over five days.   A reasonable upping of the ante seemed to be 500 miles and maybe seven days.   

Unfortunately, I got busy and before I knew it the summer sort of snuck up on me I had yet to settle on a plan.   With the weeks disappearing and weekends beginning to fill with “stuff” I started to get a bit desperate.  One item on the social calendar was a trip to Minnesota for a family reunion.  The idea of riding the bike part of the way from Syracuse to Minnesota was born.  

One option would have been to start pedaling “N” days before the wife and she would pick me up somewhere en route.  I wasn’t too keen on this plan.   Coordinating the pick up would probably consume the last day or so of the trip.  Dealing with that kind of logistics and schedule pressure could suck the fun right out of an otherwise enjoyable trip.   
 
Starting out together and having her drop me off half way wasn’t practical either, since she would have to take an extra week of vacation and would arrive in MN a week or so ahead of me.  The same dilemma would exist if on the return trip, I left before her and she’d leave a week later and pick me up wherever I happened to be.

The only remaining variation of the pedal-part-way plan was to drive out together, and then on the return trip, get dropped off about half way home.  As I started to look at likely places to get dropped off, the idea of riding half way turned into “why not just ride the whole way?”  I couldn’t think of a good reason why I couldn’t or shouldn’t.   Riding the entire way also opened up some new (more interesting) route possibilities.  The best route for riding bike is about opposite that of the best route for driving.

Even after I made the decision to ride the entire way it was not clear where I ought to start from.  The family reunion was actually in Wisconsin (just barely across the border from MN).  The obvious choice would have been to simply start from there.  Since Carol would also be heading home, I could easily (in the spirit of getting dropped off) start from just about anywhere.  Lake Michigan is a huge obstacle between Minnesota and New York, which left three basic routes:  North over the top, South around the bottom or East, straight across the middle (with the help of the Manitowoc WI to Ludington MI ferry).

Riding the ferry sounded like fun, so I settled on the straight east route.  I still didn’t know exactly where I wanted to start from.  The only plan I had was to wing it.  Up until about an hour before I started riding, the plan was to leave from somewhere on the MN side of the border.  It seemed a shame to be within 10 miles and not be able to claim the bragging rights of “From MN to NY”.  

The night before I was to start we drove a few hours south of where we had been staying.  Mostly to get Carol a couple of hours closer to home (she wasn’t thrilled about driving back to NY by herself).   Finding a hotel put us on the Wisconsin side of the border.    It also put me a couple of miles from the trailhead of a bike route I hade been seeing pop up in some of the brochures.  

Given that the trail head was right there and that I didn’t have any specific route plans, and I was getting anxious and antsy to get on the road – I decided to forego leaving from the MN side of the border and just hit the trail and start my ride.  

As part of last year’s planning and prep phase, I made a list, checked it many more times than twice and packed and repacked until I could do it in my sleep.  This year, my pre trip preparations never made it past the pile-o-stuff stage.   At least I had the list from last year, so I was pretty confident that I wasn’t forgetting anything (too) important.  

Driving to MN and then leaving from there added to the packing chaos and encouraged me to postpone the final packing cuts until literally the last minute.   Since I had finally decided where I was starting from. I figured it was time to finally finish packing.  I dumped the contents of BOB out on the hotel room floor and as ruthlessly as I could, I put things into go no-go piles. I double checked the no-go pile for important stuff and the go pile for fluff.  Ready or not, about Sunday midnight, I cinched BOB’s sack shut and declared myself ready.


Day 1: Onalaska WI to Reedsburg WI: 87 miles

The Route

I started from Onalaska Wisconsin (near LaCrosse) on the “La Crosse River State Trail” then on to the "Elroy-Sparta Trail" and then finally the "400 State Trail".  

The Ride

The bike trails were built on abandoned Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks.  The trail was sandstone which was a bit dusty and loose in spots, but mostly pretty solid and acceptable.  Riding on the trails was OK, but oddly enough I missed the traffic. Not zoom-zoom traffic of course, but being on a trail has a different feel than being on the road.     By the end of the day I was looking forward to riding on real roads.

Don’t get me wrong, riding on the trail was nice (and I’d recommend it) but there were some long quiet stretches that reminded me of the time that I thought driving across Lake Pontchartrain (near New Orleans) would be exciting.   The reality is that about half way across the twenty-five mile causeway, the unchanging scenery became a bit mind numbing.   Riding through the woods wasn’t quite that extreme, but pretty soon all the trees look alike and dense green foliage post card overdose sets in.

I no doubt saw a few more bicyclers on the trail than I would have if I had been on real roads.  I was disappointed that most were just day riders.  I saw one other BOB, and a young couple had what looked like samsonite luggage trailers.  The suitcases were lying down, which made them look like they would be very aerodynamic and also very stable.  Cool idea.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The brochure I had read said there would be some tunnels and that you should bring a flashlight.  I believed that there would be tunnels but thought that the “bring a flashlight” was mostly marketing hype.  The first tunnel was 3/4 of a mile long and very (very) dark.  

I discovered that just because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean there is any light *in* the tunnel.  It was absolutely dark in there.  Being skeptical does not mean being foolish -- I did have my flashlight handy, and used it.

The first tunnel was cool.  I marveled at the men who made it, and imagined what it must have been like to stand thin in the man-shaped cut outs while trains whistled through.

Caviar up close is only fish eggs

The whole tunnel thing sounded very cool, and was cool for a while.  By the third tunnel it was sort of a pain.  A tunnel is just a dark damp hole through a hill.   Walking on rocks in bike shoes was no picnic (and yes there were puddles).   Another brochure blurb read:  “the tunnels provide a cool refreshing break from a hot summer ride”.  I guess they were trying to put a positive spin on the cold dripping water.  

Tricked Like a Train

One of the selling points of the bike trail was that since it followed the old rail line, there would be no hills.  Trains don't like hills.  The 20 mile stretch to Sparta boasted a 3% grade.  It didn’t feel like a hill, but I definitely noticed that there wasn’t much coasting.  It was a long stretch of steady pedaling.

A few clouds threatened and sprinkled but most of the day was dry and pleasant (maybe 80 degrees or so).  The trail being through the trees made the very strong crosswind to be not much of a factor.  A combination of the slightly uphill grade and getting used to pulling BOB made it a tough ride.  At the end of the day I was tired.

The first specific place I had to be (Manitowoc to catch the Ferry) was three days away and mostly due east.  The train trails took me a little farther south than I would have liked, particularly the last leg, but after riding the trails for most of the day, finishing the day on the trail seemed like the thing to do.  I was also hopeful that I’d have an easier time finding a campground if I stuck to the trail.

C and V Railroad ?

There were in fact a few campgrounds along the way, but when I got to the end, the sites had dried up.  It was around six when I arrived at the Reedsburg (end of the trail).  The trail office was closed.  They had a bulletin board on the lawn which listed a campsite “2 miles north CRV”.  What the heck is CRV?  Since I was just on a rail trail, I assumed the R was Rail SomethingOrOther.  The C and V remained a mystery. “North” covers a lot of area.  There was a phone number for the campground but the answering machine didn’t give directions.   It was getting late and I was tired.   I decided to just head in the general direction of north and hope that I’d see a sign or something.  Not too far up the road I asked for directions at a gas station.  It seems I was making things too difficult.  CRV was “Country Road V”.   I didn’t have a local map, but the nice lady pointed me in the right direction.  

I found the campground and was pleased to find that they had a “biker’s special” – 5 bucks for the night.  Just as I finished setting up the tent, a big black cloud came out of no where.  I dived inside just in time to avoid a good soaking.  By the time I finished my sandwich (picked up from a Deli a couple hours back) the rain had stopped.  The rain lasted long enough to put a damper on any thoughts of a fire.    After a hot shower I felt like I was done for the day, anyway.    

A funny thing happened on my way (in) to the tent.  Either the tent had shrunk or I had grown.  I was having a terrible time finding enough room to wiggle into the sleeping bag.   Then it dawned on me;  I was doing it backwards.   I had the head of the sleeping bag deep inside the tent.  Once I slid the bag into the tent (feet first) I could easily crawl into the bag from outside the tent.   I was glad no one was watching.

Day 2: Reedsburg WI to Fond du Lac WI: 100 miles

The Route

33 east,
68 north ,
49 east,
BannerRoad North,
Oak Center Road East,
County Road D East,  
Country Road B East,
175 south,
Cty Road B east,

The Ride

Cold morning.  The solid gray clouds weren’t threatening anything severe but were spitting which made the chill seem chillier.  I started out with sweatpants, windbreaker and my rain coat at the ready.  After about an hour the misting stopped.  It was windy again, but it is mostly helping.  
Better Silly than Sad
Getting out of town I wasn’t sure what road I was on.  I stopped and asked an old man where highway 33 was.  He politely told me that I was on it.

Stopped for a muffin and coffee around mid morning and had a cheeseburger and cookie for lunch.

Kids! and Grown-Up Help

I was maplessly pedaling along when my road abruptly ended.  Well, it was still there, but it suddenly wanted to be a big busy road.   I found a local map at the corner gas station and spread it out on the ground to figure out where I was and where I ought to go.  Some smart aleck kid walked by and taunted “you’re soooo lost”.   He meant no harm and it made me laugh.  I couldn’t be lost.  The beauty of not having a (specific) destination is that you can’t be lost.
 
Before I was finished puzzling over the map, and older guy walked by and asked if I needed help.  It’s very hard to ask for directions when you don’t know where you are going.  Asking “does this road go anywhere?” gets you some strange looks.    

After I explained the general direction I wanted to go and that I wanted to avoid busy highways, he got down on the ground with me and pointed out some suggestions.  What struck me as cool is the way that he readily got right down on the ground with me.  He acted as if giving directions to a biker pulling a BOB was an everyday thing.
 
A bit later, I was at an intersection in the middle of nowhere and was again puzzling over my map when a truck with four young guys crammed in the cab stopped and asked if I needed any help and was I headed for “goose path”.  I was mostly just checking, so said no, I didn’t need help.  I should have, but didn’t, ask why they asked about Goose Crossing.  

I Don’t Say Much

Yes, while I ride, I have long conversations with myself, but usually they stay safely (sanely and quietly) inside my head.  I do occasionally verbalize something, even though I am obviously the only one around to hear it.  The things I say out loud include animal noises (moo at cows);  Greetings to dogs (“Hiya barky, wanna bite?”, and of course the sarcastic “thank you” for particularly stupid driver maneuvers.  

I usually read road signs out loud too.  I like consciously noticing the names of towns and streets.  In addition to giving my brain something to play with, reading the signs aloud helps my short term memory, which increases my odds of figuring out where I probably am when it comes time to puzzle over a map.

More Like Fall

I don’t think it made it past 60 degrees all day.  Not bad riding weather, but whenever I stopped it felt chilly.   

One of my goals for the trip was to one night just “camp in the woods”.   I was just starting to look for a likely place to put up my tent when I spotted the “KOA Camping -- 1 mile” sign.   After a hot shower, I’m thinking finding real campgrounds is a pretty good goal too.

Beef stick, rye bread and a cup of beef bouillon for dinner.  I lamented a bit about the last minute load lightening that saw the long pants left behind.   I hung out in the camp laundry room reading brochures just to warm up a bit.

With two days done, I started to get the feeling that that I was really going to do this.  It was a good feeling.  I was happy.   Even my back felt OK.   Bone tired, but I felt good.  

Day 3: Fond du Lac WI to Manitowoc WI: 85 miles

The Route

Cty Road B east,
45 East,
County Road B east,
67 East,
67 North,
Country Road C east,
Lake Shore Drive North,
Madison Street East,
LakeView Drive North

The Ride

Packed up the tent in the rain.   Yuck.  Cold and rainy is no way to start a day.  After about half an hour it stopped raining and I was starting to think that maybe I should have slept in and started out under more reasonable conditions.  

The second guessing didn’t last long. The sky turned black and the cars coming at me had their lights and wipers still on.   I stayed in denial as long as I could before donning the raincoat.  

It poured.  For the next three hours it rained.  Steady, wet and cold.  It was probably no more than 45 degrees.  I started to notice that my toes were cold.  

Fire Hose Effect

In another last minute make-the-load-lighter act, I had removed the back rack from the bike.  When it was there, it sort of acted like a fender.   I figured I would get a pretty good mud stripe up my back, but I had not planned on the wet road surprise.  When it got wet enough that I was riding through standing water, the wheel kicked up a steady stream of (very) cold water.  It felt like I was being chased by a fire hose.  Next time you look at a picture of my bike, notice the split seat.

Tick-Tick-Tick

At one point the rain drops on my helmet took on a harsher tic-tac noise and they looked solid as they streaked through the air.  I can’t be certain, but between you, me, and dear diary, I’m saying that I biked in a hail storm.

Dancing on the Pedals

Getting wet sucks; once you are wet, being wet is not so bad.  In an odd sort of way it’s fun riding in the rain.  Part of the good feeling comes from the satisfaction of not letting the rain chase you away or change you plans (much).  If Gene Kelly can sing in it, I can pedal in it.

Finally around noon the rain stopped.  The wind did not.   Mostly it was a crosswind, but occasionally the road zagged me directly into it.  Once, going down a hill where I normally would have been braking to keep it under 40 mph, I found myself pedaling in a low gear barely doing 10mph.  

With many days of pedaling ahead of me, the strong wind made me very nervous.  

It was early afternoon when I bumped into Lake Michigan.  I missed the noon ferry by a couple of hours and the next run was at midnight.  After today’s cold soaking, I was not keen on the idea of spending the night in the rain so sleeping on the Ferry seemed like a good plan.   For an extra thirty bucks they offer state room accommodations (it’s a four hour crossing).   The state rooms were sold out, but being first on the standby list, the nice girl behind the counter said my odds of getting one were good.   The last thing I needed was to wake up in the morning with a crick in my neck from sleeping in a chair, so I hoped her optimism was rooted in experience.

I headed into downtown Manitowoc for a meal.   I found a nice little diner with good pie.  Even after lingering over a second cup coffee and chatting with the mom and daughter owner, I had more than a few hours left to kill.  

The sun was out and still very windy so I decided to unpack and air out the stuff that was put away wet in the morning.   Traveling with BOB encourages bad pack habits; it’s way too easy to just throw stuff in.  I took the time to sort stuff out and organize a bit, but not too much though.  Right or wrong, my head had already settled into a pattern.  Wherever things were, that’s where they would have to stay for the duration.  

Toasted

Driving out to MN the week before, we saw a lot of bikers (motorcycle kind) heading west towards the annual biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  Waiting for the ferry was a group heading back home.  Just in case you were wondering, bikers *after* Sturgis look a lot scarier than bikers before Sturgis!  Scary in that they looked sunburned, fried, and all partied out.  I was glad that I (probably) wouldn’t be sharing the road with most of them.

No big deal

I was worried about the Ferry accommodations for my bike (and BOB).  If they expected me to park in a standard bike rack or something I might have to take the trailer off and it could turn into a real pain.   The worry was for naught – the nice man said “just put it along the side over there”.  No big deal.

Knock Knock

The Ferry ride was OK.  I got a stateroom but since I was on standby I couldn’t check in until we were underway (one less hour of sleep).  I slept pretty well.  I half drifted awake once and noticed we were rolling around pretty good.  It brought back memories of being back on the USCG buoy boat.    

In answer to my last night’s wondering about how they were going to get everyone awake at 4am when we docked;   I awoke to loud banging on doors and shouts of “docking in 15 minutes”.  Abrupt, but practical.

It was still dark when we docked so I had to hang around for an hour or so until it was light enough to ride.

Day 4: Ludington MI to White Cloud MI: 69 miles

The Route

East on Downland Street,
North on South Madison Street,
East Ludington Avenue,
East on 10,
South on Marquette Road,
South on Marquette Hwy,
East on Hawley,
North on Gordon,
East on Kinney,
South on Scottsville,
East on Hawley,
North on Walhalla,,
East on Kinney,
East on 52nd street,
South on Michigan Avenue (Hwy 37),
East on Adda,  
South on Clark

The Ride

As soon as it was light, I headed off into Michigan.  The sun was shining, but there were some very scary dark clouds to the north.  

Not two minutes into the ride I passed a bakery.  I didn’t even think about *not* stopping.  Bakeries have become as natural as stop signs.  I stop without conscious thought.  The Michigan apple fritters were on par with those in Wisconsin.  Good.  

It took a few miles to get out of town, so I was glad for the early start.  The roads looked like they would soon be very busy.  With a whole state in front of me, I didn’t worry at all about not having a map.  The plan was simply “go that-a-way”.

As soon as I was out of town, I found myself in some very rural and very pretty county.  I startled deer more than once and watched their white tails bounce away into the dense pine.  A curious fawn stayed until I could have almost touched it.  I wasn’t sure how to handle it when I snuck up on a skunk rooting around the roadside.  By the time we saw each other, I think we both had the same thought:  just keep doing what we were doing, no sudden moves and we’ll be fine.  

I enjoyed the rural so much that I didn’t even care that I was seeing it through the rain.  Weather happens.  Sometimes it happens to be wet.  Pedaling quietly on unpainted roads through forests that smell of pine is a pretty darn cool way to spend a morning.

Playing the South Card

Mostly I needed to head east (and just a little to the south).  From where I got off the ferry, there looked to be a state park about a days ride straight south.  Although I could have, I hated to play my south card all in one day.  That would limit the general eastward meanderings for the next couple of days.  When heading east and you arrive at a T intersection, it breaks the tie when you know you need to go a little bit south anyway.  

Bridge Out

About mid morning I encountered my first detour.  There was a sign that said the road ahead was closed. I boldly rode on assuming that I could sneak past.  The road was closed because they were building a new bridge.  I had to turn around and ended up on a dirt road detour.  It wasn’t too bad, but pulling BOB up gravel road hills thrilled me about as much as the jarring ruts that bounced me at the bottom.

Real Food

Since I stayed up late and was up early I opted for a sit-down diner for lunch.  I felt a bit guilty for not trying something from the “specials” board, but they were pushing “Mexican day” which somehow didn’t seem like the thing to eat in the middle of a biking day.  I opted for the hot roast beast sandwich (with gravy of course) and a slice of  Pecan pie (they were out of peach).

I Forget

I’m a creature of habit.  Habit is a reasonable substitute for memory.  I on-purpose relegate many things to habit to avoid having to consciously think or remember.  At home, things like my bike helmet, gloves and car keys all have a designated spot.   Why am I telling you this?  Because after the diner I came out and saw a gas station a couple blocks up the road.  My helmet was (of course) hanging on my handlebars with my gloves inside it (like always).  Since the station was only a couple blocks I stashed my helmet and gloves under the BOB bungee and rode to the station without getting into full riding garb.

Soon after I left the station I noticed that I wasn’t wearing my gloves.  I had broken my routine and forgot to put them on.

About two miles down the road it started to rain.  I stopped to put on my rain jacket and my forgotten gloves.   Much to my dismay, my gloves were nowhere to be found.  Somehow in the non-standard shuffle from the diner to the station I had lost them.  

Flawed Logic

I probably could have turned around and went back to find the gloves but I subscribe to the Flawed Logic school of thought that dictates it’s better to go five miles out of your way than backtrack a single block when you miss a turn.  

I was bummed, but I couldn’t see backtracking.  Some puppy was probably having a nice chew.

The reason for wearing gloves is not only to pad your grip; they can also save you from a painful session of tweezing pebbles from your palms if/when you fall.  I haven’t taken a fall in a good long while and I had plenty of padding on the handlebars.  What bothered me most (aside from the dumb-headedness of leaving them behind) was the odd/icky feeling of riding without them.  It just felt wrong.

Whooshed Over

While standing beside the bike in the pouring rain bumming about my lost gloves, a HUGE truck whooshed by and knocked me, the bike and BOB onto our backsides and into the mud.  Sheesh.  I went from Diner-Gravy-Happy to Mud-Sitting-Sad in a span of thirty minutes.  Bummer.

Oh Joy

I wasn’t surprised, but wasn’t thrilled either, when I noticed a squeak.  The steady rain of the last few days had probably washed every once of lubrication from all of my moving parts. Tipping over into the mud added a nice bit of grit to things as well.

As if riding along in my muddy wet gloveless squeaky state wasn’t enough,  I noticed that my speedometer wasn’t working.  The sensor must have got knocked out of whack when I was knocked over.  I stopped and fiddled with it, but didn’t have any luck.  The afternoon was going from bad to worse.  The rain was coming steady and hard and showed no signs of letting up.   In a surly mood, I decided find a place to call it a day.  I was not happy.

The Quest

Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) no good place to stop presented itself, so I rode on.   After a bit I cheered up.   The gloves could be replaced, the squeak could be lubed, I would dry out, and the GPS served as my backup speedometer and odometer.

Though I could live without them, I didn’t want to.  I wanted gloves.   Have you noticed that gas stations and country stores do not stock bike gloves?   I settled for a pair of cotton work gloves.  At least my hands didn’t feel naked and cold.  That evening at camp, I whacked off the fingers to make them more like bike gloves (even though the weather wasn’t August-like, the full fingered gloves felt too warm).  

They Mist Me

It rained on and off for the rest of the day.   Even after the rain stops, the roads stay wet for a good long while.   What that means to a boy on a bike is that you end up being damp all darn day as trucks go whooshing by and mist you.

Mapless

In the “old days” it seemed like all gas stations had county maps.  Now they have coffee and donuts and maybe a dog eared Rand McNally Road Atlas on the shelf.   Finding a county map with local roads proved to be difficult.    I tended to have better luck with country stores than gas stations.  

The typical response was “Hey, Gwen, Do we have any county maps”.  Gwen would come from the back and shrug.  Since the maps were free and supplied by the chamber of commerce or something, when they had them, they were usually in a box under the counter.  I surprised one lady when she said she didn’t think she had any and I suggested that she look for a box under the counter.  She was amused when I was right.  I guess psychic sweaty bike riders don’t happen by very often.

Early in the day, mapless was not a problem.  Come late afternoon, I started to fret about campgrounds and the maps that listed them.  

Day End

I found a map and located a campground.   I found some steak to put on a stick but the misting rain meant the that the fire was pretty lame.  The campsite had hammock trees but hamocking in the rain isn’t so very much fun.   The day ended.  

Day 5: White Cloud MI to Crystal Lake MI: 73 miles

The Route

East on Wilcox, South on 37, East on 82, North on Federal road, East on Howard City Edmore Road (46),
South on Greenville Road (91), East on Stanton, South on Lake, East on Stanton, South on Waldron, east on North Shore, South on Main, east on Sidney

The Ride

Chilly again in the morning, but at least it was dry.  I was tempted to lounge around a bit, but as long as it wasn’t raining I thought it best to get up and get started.  There were remnants of rain on the road, and threatening clouds to the north and west, but clear skies overhead.
Please Don’t Feed the Bears
Some critter stole my oatmeal!  I had left it out under the cook pot for easy access in the morning.  Stupid thing to do.  Good thing I’m in squirrel country and not bear country.

An Apple (fritter) a Day

I wanted to get on the road, so I substituted an extra donut for the missing oatmeal.   

Donuts, muffins and cookies were high on my daily food forage list. I started many days with an Apple Fritter (or something similarly sinister from the local bakery).  Around mid morning it was time to hunt for muffins.  After noon, cookies became the snack of choice.

Topless is Wrong

By the way…
A real muffin has an overhanging mushroom top that you can grab with your fingers and peel off.   If the top’s not rip-able, and at least twice as big as the bottom, then it’s not a real muffin.

If you are going to make a muffin that’s barely round on top, with barely a mound on top, then you ought not to call it a muffin. Go sell it at on the cupcake counter.

The Dryer is Innocent

I lost a sock.  My “traveling world” is pretty small, so I don’t know where or how.  I wondered if I should carry the single sock with me or leave it behind.  I packed it.  Maybe it’d come in handy for something – for what, I can’t imagine.

I Like a Well Oiled Machine

I stopped at a hardware store (mostly because I saw bikes in the window and was hoping for some bike gloves – no luck).  But whilst I was in there, I bought some oil as a treat for my weather and mud abused moving parts.  An oiled chain is a happy chain.  What with the weather and yesterdays incident with the whooshing truck, just about everything was pretty gunked up.  What a mess.   

Help for the Homeless-man Gloves

At a country “sporting goods” store (sport in Michigan means hunting and fishing – not bikes), I found some hunting neoprene gloves.  The rubber type padding felt good but they were a bit snug and a little too warm.    With some more pocket knife surgery, I cut the palms out of the neoprene gloves and put them inside the cotton gloves (with the fingers cut off).   Although they looked pretty ratty, they felt almost like real bike gloves.  Good enough that I stopped obsessing about replacing my missing mittens.   Except for when I happened to look down at them, I forgot that they weren’t “real”.

Cookies as a Commodity

When it was time to stop for a cookie -- I stopped.  I was only going to get one but the nice lady said they were three for a dollar.  I (almost) said “No, I really only need one”.  I quickly came to my senses and took away three.  The price of cookies varies greatly.  Just yesterday I had paid two dollars for a single cookie of similar size.  I went for three, figuring the others would make a nice snack later.  The cookies were good and I was hungrier than I thought.  They never made it out of the parking lot.

Pick a Lake, Any Lake

In an attempt to increase my odds of finding a campground, I looked for a lake within the range of a days ride.  Crystal Lake became my arbitrary goal for the day.  Where there is a lake, there are campgrounds, right?  My hunch proved correct.  

Things That Go “Uh”

After five days, I noticed that I tended to utter an audible “uh!” as I sat down on the seat, and say “ah” when getting off.  My sit bones didn’t bother me too much while I was riding, but during the sit transition they brought their woe to my attention.  

An old man says “ah” as he sinks into his chair and holds his back and says “uh” when he gets up.  My  “ahs” and “uhs” being the exact opposite of old man audible’s, I think is further proof that being on a bike is an anti-aging mechanism.  

One pair of shorts had much better padding and was noticeably more comfortable than my other pair.  With only three areas that touch the bike (Hands, Butt and Feet) it makes sense to splurge a little and make sure the pressure points are well protected.

The Rain Game

It was cloudy most of the day with roaming rouge clouds that tended to rain when and where they want.  I missed a few and found a few.  It gave me an opportunity to play the rain game.

The rules are pretty simple:  have your rain coat on when it’s raining and not, when it’s not.  Sound easy, but clouds are a tricky bunch.  Sometimes they drop a few drops then change their mind.  It’s harder than you think to get your jacket on before the first “serious” rain drops fall.  

What, Again today ?

It seemed that every day, usually sometime within the first hour or so, something started to hurt with just enough hint of seriousness to it that I’d begin to worry.  I think it was just my body’s way of checking in with “what, are we going to do this again today?”   In a further effort to trick me, it was a different part each day.  (e.g. Hamstring, Knee, Achilles Tendon, …).  After a bit of fretting, the pain would pass and I’d feel fine for the rest of the day.

Low Tech, High Tech

I was growing quite fond of the old fashioned paper maps.  There is something very satisfying about spreading out the big paper and tracing with your finger where you’ve been and where you might go.  

Just for a minute (and only for a minute!) I started to question my love for the GPS.  I quickly came to my senses and rationalized a way to make both relationships work.  The GPS is good for telling me where I am; the map is good for deciding where to go.
The Curse of the Compass
In case you are wondering, the GPS come with standard “Base Maps” (major highways and cities).  If you want detailed maps, you need to download them on an individual county by county basis.   Since I did not preplan a detailed route, I did not know which county maps to download.  I downloaded a bunch, but guessed miserably wrong.

Even though I did not have the correct detailed maps downloaded into the GPS, if I zoomed out far enough on the GPS screen, I could see my position relative to the “big cities” which helped to keep me pointing in general direction of major landmarks (like the ferry).  

Another helpful feature of the GPS was the compass.  The heavy cloud cover meant that it wasn’t as easy as looking for the sun in order to discern my direction.  Of course I was headed east, but not “exactly” east.  

Sometimes the compass was a bit of a curse and confused me.  Roads rarely go perfectly straight.  When on a roads with miles and miles between intersections, it can be unnerving to find yourself heading “straight north” when the plan is to head east.  Without a map you can’t help but wonder for while if you are on the right road.  

Three Rights Make a Left

When riding through towns it becomes very critical to remember that three rights make a left.  The sign that says that-a-way for East and the other way for west often times is counter intuitive and just plain wrong in terms of the actual road directions at the intersection.  In a car you wouldn’t give it a second thought.  You trust that the clover leafs and entrance ramps will wind you (eventually) into the advertised direction.  On a bike, a quarter mile in the “wrong” direction seems like a very long time.

Small

The lake was where it was supposed to be.  The campground guy said he just had a cancellation so he could squeeze me in.  The place was full, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have let me set up my (very small) tent even if an entire space was not available.
Damp Camp Towel
Back in the trip-prep phase I bought some “camp soap” and an official “camp towel”.  The soap was a good find.  It’s liquid and concentrated – good for showers, dishes and laundry; Good stuff.

The towel wasn’t working out as well.  It was advertised as being light and super absorbent.  It was absorbent, but never seemed to be completely dry.  It always felt icky and damp.

I wasn’t real thrilled with last year’s solution (rubbery feeling squeegee towel), but compared to this damp thing, I think I’ll stick with the squeegee.  I did bring a small version of the squeegee towel which not only helped me dry after a shower, but also worked well for wiping down the tent in the morning (heavy dew and/or rain).  I still had to roll up the tent wet, but not soaking wet.

Potato Soup

I made potato soup for dinner.  It was tasty plus one.
Here’s the recipe.

1 cup water
1 large potato (finely diced)
1 cube chicken bouillon
Whatever portion of beef stick you’ve left over from yesterday’s lunch (diced up)
2 slices of bread – crumbled up, crust removed.

Boil the spuds in the chicken bouillon water until about half done (if you diced them small, they won’t take more than about 5 minutes).  Add the pieces of beef stick. When the potatoes are tender, add the bread crumbs and stir, stir, stir until creamy.  

Let it cool for about as long as it takes to explain to a curious camping neighbor what bike touring is all about.   Eat, using the bread crust for sopping up the good stuff (you did save the crust, didn’t you?)

If it doesn’t taste like the best potato soup you’ve ever had -- pedal 75 miles and re-taste.

My only regret was that I had not saved one of those cookies for desert.  

Back Rack

Before the trip, my back had been bothering so much that I had considered canceling.  Thankfully, my back was not bothering me at all.  I wondered if sleeping on the flat hard ground was the reason.  Either because the hardness was a good thing, or maybe because the hardness caused me to toss and turn and shift every couple of hours.  

Day 6: Crystal Lake MI to Flint MI: 94 miles

The Route

west on Sidney
North on Main,
west on North Shore,
North on Waldron,
East on Stanton,
East on Washington
South on County Line
East on Ithaca
South on Raucholz Rd
East on Brant
South on Fordney
East on Gary
South on Oakley Road (52)
East on Brady Road (57)
South on Saginaw Road (54)
East on Mount Morris rd
South on Irish Road
East on dirt road into campground



The Ride

Mud Flakes

Around noon my derailer started to act flaky.  Every time I started to pedal hard, it would slip gears.  I kept looking down at it but could not catch it in the act of slipping.  Someone once told me that looking back at your back wheel is good way to smack into something.   

Finally at lunch I stopped to do some investigation.  The derailleur and chain were seriously gunked up.  The oil applied in the morning seemed to have made it worse.  While de-gunking and cleaning I noticed the back wheel was wobbling and loose.  Yikes!  It seems that the quick release had released.  It probably happened when I was toppled over by the whooshing truck.  The flaky shifting was because every time I put serious pressure on the pedals, it pulled the wheel sideways.

Bob was in the way of the quick-release lever.  In an act of really bad judgment and laziness, I tightened the wheel back up as best I could without detaching BOB.  I paid for my laziness when it came loose again later.    It was raining then, so again I just “made do”.  It wasn’t until I stopped for the evening that I fixed it properly.  

I’m Not a Bike Guru

Just in case you are wondering … I’m just a regular guy who likes to ride bike.  I have no special skills or knowledge.  When I talk to bike geeks – they easily lose me in the techno speak and finer points.  

Other than changing the tires, the rest of the bike’s mechanical workings remain (somewhat) a mystery to me.  Speaking of tires, when I have a good pump and gauge at home, I’m obsessed with keeping them pumped to the precise amount of pressure.  Out here on the road, without a gauge and only the portable pump, I’m blatantly ignoring what I know to be a need for a couple more PSI of pressure.   

Roads Without Paint

The best roads are the really rural ones that don’t even have stripe down the center.  Instead of thinking of them as roads with no shoulder, I preferred to think of them as “all shoulder”.    

Genderless Faucets

A buck or so for a bottle of water doesn’t sound like much until you think about buying every drop you will drink and cook with for an extended period of time.

That said, I didn’t mind spending for a cool drink of water.  After hours of riding, it was a simple pleasure that was worth every penny and more.     

What bothered my sensibilities was filling up my second bottle with bottled water, knowing that by the time I’d get around to drinking it, it would be the wonderful flavor of plastic-bottle warm.

Along with the times when I did not want to buy water, there were times (like when leaving the campground in the morning) when tap water was the only option.  

Enter the evil genderless faucet.  Either the single push button or the kind with motion sensors that turn on when you stick your hands under and dispense water that is neither hot enough for a good wash nor cold enough for drinking.  

Even though the water would be warm by the time I’d get around to drinking it, I still didn’t like the idea of filling them with warm water.   Warm water is somehow suspicious.  I was never sure if it was even safe to drink.  Warm water is wrong.    

Sign It Like You Mean It

Most days I was on the look out for roadside camping spots.  Even if it was early in the day, I “practiced” looking for favorable conditions.   I was pleasantly surprised by how much land was not marked as “no-trespassing”.  Sure, some land was posted, but it was with faded paper signs that had been nailed to the trees twenty years ago.  I took them to mean that someone would really rather I not use the land, but they wouldn’t really mind or care.

The signs that frightened me (just a little) were the ones that were hand scrawled with a fat crayon or sprayed with bold red running paint.  Nothing ambiguous about the intent of the words “Keep Out” on those signs.

When You Gotta Go, Where Do You Go?

Everything you read about the importance of hydration when participating in prolonged physical activity is true.  Getting dehydrated is bad.  It makes you feel bad;   Really bad.   It usually manifests itself as sort of a tired and generally depressed feeling.  With your senses dulled, you don’t even realize how much trouble you are in.

In order to stay on the safe side of the hydration equation, my rule of thumb is that I need one bottle of water every 20 miles or so.  If it’s hot or if I am working extra hard, I go through more, but as a fallback plan, I watch the miles and makes sure I’m drinking at least my “minimum amount”.

Drinking lots of water while riding in cool, wet weather yields predictable results.  You sweat less and have to, um, “go” more often.      

Which brings us to the question:  Where do you go, when you have to “go”?   Being a guy, my needs are pretty simple, and you’d think riding in rural areas it would be no big deal.   Not so.   

First, although rural, there was usually a house somewhere within sight. Next, the traffic though sparse, was random.  So even without a house close by or a car within sight, the polite thing to do was of course at least get off the road.  

When you are driving along in a car, it seems the trees are “right there”.  The reality is that there is usually a very wide ditch between the road and your chosen rustic privy.  Assuming the ditch isn’t full of water (which hopefully you discover *before* sinking past your ankles in ooze), it is often full of tall weeds that probably won’t give you a rash or make you itch – very much.

After you manage to make it to the tree line, you still have to get past the scratchy bushes, branches and bramble, which is no picnic when dressed in short sleeves and bike shorts.   OK, so now you’ve made it past the itchy weeds, biting bugs and thorns and are now “in the trees”; How far into the woods do you need to go?  Do you mind if a car passing by, while not able to see the “details”, can still see what you are doing?

After a couple hundred miles, I noticed that I was losing my bashfulness.

IRKs and URKs

The relatively slow speed of a pedaling allows a person to notice road kill in an entirely new (and sometimes grossly graphic) way.  After a while I began to mentally classify them…

The major categories:  
Unidentifiable Road Kill (URKs).
Identifiable Road Kill (IRKs)

Common Subcategories under URKs were STurks or Durks
(STained or Dried )

The variations under IRK with an ‘I’ were many, like  
Mammalian and Reptilian:  Mirk and Rirk
SLithering or SHelled: SLurk and SHirk

SMelly and SMeared would of course be SMirks
Tangled and Twisted would both be called Tirks
The above could usually be pretty Gross (AKA  Girks.)

Domestic and Dried – I filed under Dirk
While the Wild variety would be known as a Wirk

It’s especially Sad when they look SLeeping or Posed.
Which makes them a Sirk-SLirk-Pirk, I suppose.

If you think size even matters at all
then Lurk Murk and Smirk
For Large, Medium and Small

My Aim was Just a Bit Off

All day long I was “aiming” straight between Saginaw and Flint.  It was an interesting map-less day, with lots of turning and winding my way along.   Somewhere along the way I edged too far south and ended up nearing the suburbs of Flint.  I found myself in that awkward fringe where there are homes and strip malls – not rural enough for camping and not busy enough for hotels.    

It was starting to look grim, but not quite desperate when I stopped at a small station/grocery shop and they actually had a local map.  No campgrounds were listed and the kid behind the counter did not know of any either.  It wasn’t a busy shop, and she (and I think her boyfriend) were very interested in my ride and were very helpful.  We decided to look in the phone book under “Camping”.  (I think back in the olden days before there was WWW_FindEverythingAndAnyThingDOTcom, that is the way folks found things :).

They (and I) were surprised to find that there were half a dozen or so campground listings.  They helped me find the addresses on the map and how best to get there from here.  I was already at 70 miles for the day and the nearest was 20 miles away.  If the campground was full or couldn’t be found, I’d be in big trouble and have to go to the dreaded Plan C.    (Head directly south for about 15 miles until I hit the heart of the city and find a hotel.)   I wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of executing that particular plan.

I had no trouble finding the county-run campground and there was plenty of room.  It was run by a couple of young lady rangers who made me feel very welcome.  They even offered to bring me firewood.    They were nice but also liked to gossip.    I didn’t mind, but soon it seemed the entire campground knew of me and my quest.  A few campers stopped by to talk and ask questions.   I had a long talk with a retired trucker.  He was helpful but couldn’t quite seem to relate the slow speed of a bike.  I mentioned that I thought I might make it to the Canadian border within the next day and he assured me that I’d be there by noon.  (The border was an hour away by truck.  In round numbers – an hour of driving (70 miles) translates to a day of pedaling.)   

I Think I Stink

I opened up BOB and knew it must be laundry day.   Combine the fact that everything had been worn at least once with the general dampness that had been with me the whole trip, then and add a bag that doesn’t breathe into the mix and you’ve the perfect recipe for reek.    

My rubber soled boat shoes were the worst.  They had taken on an extremely funky smell.  They have thick rubber soles and synthetic something or other as tops.  They pack thin and are reasonably comfortable, making them the perfect thing for walking around the camp at night.  They are made to get wet but something about the continued dampness and lack of air inside BOB had turned them evil.  

Everything cleaned up clean and April-Fresh except the shoes.  I decided to bungie them to the outside of BOB, hoping that maybe a day in the fresh air would cure them.  

Flame and Fame are Fleeting

While at the laundry, my fire went out.  I didn’t feel like scrounging up enough kindling got get it going again.  The nice rangers in the morning would no doubt mock my leftover logs.  A real man would have burned them proper.  I probably lost my biking-hero status.  Oh-well.

At the Car Wash

I sometimes wash my truck at a coin operated do-it-yourself wash.  One of the features is countdown timer so that I don’t use up all my quarters on the pre-soak and then have to wash, wax and rinse in the remaining thirty seconds.

Why did I pay $24.95 for the campsite and still have to deal with a coin operated shower?  
This shower took dimes and there was no countdown timer.  I figured I’d spend my first ten cents on the pre-soak.  Actually it was just about right.  The tree-hugging water saving crowd says you are supposed to turn off the water while you soap anyway, so after a thorough soaping, ten more cents to rinse.  In a spending mood I popped in another dime and lingered.  

I’m not quibbling about the thirty cents for a shower.  The main reason for staying at a campground instead of in the wild woods is for a nice level spot for the tent and a hot shower.  My quibble is why not just charge me an extra buck for the site?  

Day 7: Flint MI to Brights Grove Canada: 92 miles

The Route

North on Irish Road
East on Mount Morris rd
South on State Road (15)
East on Davison Road (old 21)
East on Genesee st (old 21)
East on Imlay City Road (old 21)
East on Capac Road (old 21)
East on Imlay City Road (old 21)
South on Downey Road (old 21)
East on Brice Road (old 21)
South on Dunningham Road (Still AKA Old 21)
East on Brandon Road (old 21)
East on Lapeer Avenue (old 21)
North on Rural Street
East on Water Street
North on 10th Street
North on Pin Grove Avenue
East on Highway 69
BRIDGE TO CANADA
East on 402

The Ride

The day started nice.  Chilly of course, but at least not raining when I woke.  Even without rain, it seemed like the tent always goes into the bag wet  -- very heavy dew.   Maybe next year I’ll do a trip with the rule being that I don’t break camp until everything is dry.  Interesting concept, but it could mean not getting very far.

I started out in the Flint Suburbs and mapless. When I stopped for coffee I bumped into a casual biker.  Turns out he was a member of a local bike club.  I pumped him for information on the best route to get from here to there and he confirmed what the retired trucker had told me the night before:   Old route 21 would pretty much bring me to the bridge to Canada.  He was an odd sort of fellow.  When he wandered off, another guy who had overheard part of our conversation walked over and confirmed the plan was a good one and clarified the directions.

So with a total of three folks telling me the same thing, I set off to find Canada, via “old 21”.  

Public Rest Rooms

My theory is that no one likes to use them, so it stands to reason that when folks finally decide that a public restroom is their only option – well, what they do in there isn’t going to be pretty.

After living with public restrooms for a week or so now I’ve come to the conclusion that they are disgusting.  (OK, I sort of knew that already, but this has been an unpleasant reminder.)  

Some day when I own a public restroom franchise, I’m going to make them self cleaning.   I’m thinking along the lines of a high pressure sprinkler system.  When leaving the restroom, you don’t just flush, you flush the whole room.  Sparkling clean all the time.

Acknowledging that there might be a few legal liability wrinkles to work out in order to make flushing an entire room with hot bleach a viable solution, I might opt for a low-tech brute force approach.   Rather than the new fancy commodes that boast a water-saving half gallon per flush, I’d go the other way and install water-splurging models.    I think 30 to 50 gallons per flush ought to handle most incidents.

It's Not Canada's Fault, But …

Getting into Canada and my first few hours across the border were a bit harried.

About mid morning I saw that I was making good time and would probably hit the Canadian border around 3pm.  I found a Canadian map and it confirmed what the retired trucker had told me the night before - there was a KOA campground just across the border.  I also noticed a couple of other campgrounds up next to the lake so confidently decided to go ahead and cross today, assuming that Sunday afternoon would be better than Monday morning rush hour.

As I got near the bridge I saw signs for Canada, but they were all for the highways (no bikes allowed).  I headed into town and figured that I'd find a bike friendly road once I got up close.  Every road that seemed to lead to the bridge had a "No Bikes or Pedestrians" sign on it.  

I asked a couple of people how to get across (with a bike) and was answered with shrugs.  Finally I got close enough where I could see the toll booths.  They didn't look busy so I boldly ignored the signs and pedaled towards them.   Eight lanes makes a man on a bike feel really small.   I was nearly at the booth when a guy came out of nowhere and said "I've come for you".  They must have saw me on security cameras or something.  He asked where I was headed and where I was coming from.  He kept asking me if I was "cross country touring".  After convincing him that I had indeed pedaled from afar, he said that as long as I wasn't local, he could throw me in the back of his truck and bring me across the bridge.  If I had been local, I would have had to hire someone to bring me across.  

While I appreciated the ride, I was more than a little disturbed that bikes or pedestrians were not allowed to cross the bridge.  As far as this guy knew, it was because of too many jumpers.  Yikes.  Talk about rules gone awry!.  A few whacko's shouldn't be able to ruin things for the rest of us.  I'm still figuring out where to send my ranting letter.  My tax dollars go to that bridge and I ought to be able to use it.  Since it was built with bikes and pedestrians in mind, I can think of a single rational reason for them to have closed it to non-motorized traffic. In addition to the principal of the thing, I was looking forward to "riding across the border".  

Once in Canada, I got a little lost but mostly just headed east until I was out of the downtown area.  While I was lost, I did stumble upon a Wal-Mart and popped in to buy some bike gloves.  Not top of the line, but a bit better than my home-made homeless pair.

It was getting near 6-ish as I headed for the KOA.  I figured I couldn't miss it so was not paying too much attention to distance.  I was mostly on the lookout for a cash machine.  What with the border fiasco, I didn't have a chance to exchange currency.  I assumed most places would take my American dollars, but I didn't want to be an ugly American and blend in (well, as much as a balding man on a bike pulling a BOB *can* blend in).  

When I finally found a cash machine I looked at the map and noticed that the cross road I was on was about a mile past where the KOA was supposed to be.   No big deal, I assumed I was so focused on cash that I must have missed it.  I turned around and headed back.  When I arrived where it was supposed to be I found a development complex in its stead.  I double checked the map and rode up, down and around just to make sure.  I guess the map I was using should have been retired along with the trucker that I had I talked to last night.

Although a little bummed, I headed for the Plan-B campground.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get there from here. The road "stopped" in a dead end - I couldn't get across the freeway.  After a bit of back tracking I found a way to get across the freeway and got to where the campground was supposed to be and again found nothing.  There was a lot of new construction in the area and there was no sign of a campground.  I was starting to get a bit worried now and headed for Plan C - a campground on the shore a few miles up.  

Where it was supposed to be, I found a nice new looking park -- with no camping allowed.  It was starting to get late and I was approaching 90 miles for the day.  Tired and discouraged, without plan D, E or F, I resigned myself to plan G and H.  (Give up and get a Hotel).   I turned around to head back into town.

Just after turning around, a woman out walking her dog waved a friendly hello.  I probably startled her a bit when I slammed on my brakes.  I figured a friendly face was a good face to ask if there was any camping to be had in the area or at least maybe get a tip on a finding a reasonable  hotel.  She didn't know of any nearby campgrounds but saw her neighbor out walking his dog and flagged him down for a consult.  "Harry" didn't know of any either and sort of half jokingly said I could set up my tent in his back yard.  Being tired and desperate, I said "really?" and proceeded to assure him I wouldn't be any trouble and my tent (being the tiny thing that it is) wouldn't make a mess of his yard or anything.

He gave me his address and told me to go ahead and just go right to the backyard.  He'd tell his wife when he got home.  I felt a little odd when I got to his house.  It was in a very nice development and wondered if I had heard the address right.  I could just imagine setting up in the wrong back yard.  Even though he said not to bother her, I rang the bell to warn his wife that I was there.  She looked a little puzzled by the presence of sad looking biker on her doorstep but she did confirm that Harry was indeed her husband.

While I set up my tent, she offered coffee.  Peggy and I were sipping coffee on the porch and having a nice conversation when Harry returned from walking the dog.  They were a very nice couple and offered to make me something to eat.  I had munched a few energy bars so thought it best to decline their generous offer.  

They also offered to make me breakfast in the morning, but again, although I appreciated the offer, I thought the polite thing to do was to decline.  I was thankful enough for the use of their yard.  I didn't feel right imposing on them any more than I already had.   I did take Harry's suggestion for which donut shop to stop at in the morning.

So although off to a bumpy start, my first night in Canada was maybe the best nights of the trip.

Day 8: Brights Grove Canada to Stratford Canada: 75 miles

The Route

North Lakeshore Drive
East on Gore Road
South Corbet Line
East on Huron Street
North on 12
East on 20
South 163

The Ride

Up at first light, packed quickly, waved good bye to Harry and was on the road.    It turned into a nice day (80 degrees and sunny).  It finally felt like summer!  Although I was heading generally east, it seemed the sun was always on my right (southerly side).  I managed to get a wicked sun burn on my right leg (at the sock line and back of the calf).

Fresh plums and oatmeal cookies from the grocer made a delicious lunch by a river.

Clicking Into Place

Clipless pedals are a good thing but “clicking in” is either a thing of beauty or an act (if witnessed) that epitomizes fumbling incompetence.  Since you can’t see the clip, it is done by instinct.  With practice, you “just know” where to put your foot and push.   If for whatever reason, you are off by a skosh, then no amount of pushing is going to yield you that satisfying click.  On flat ground, it’s not a problem if you miss -- you just let the foot that is already clipped in do all the work while you fumble to get the other cleat clicked.  In traffic, stopped at the bottom of a hill is usually the place where I miss the mark.    
Geared For Change
I have bar-end shifters which mean that when I am down in the drops my hands are literally inches away from the shift levers.  I’ve no excuse for sometimes pedaling for miles and miles, laboring along in the wrong gear.   My reluctance to change can no doubt be attributed to a good dose of lazy dumb headedness. Same Good.  Change Bad.  Reasoning Broke.

Under

While on rural roads, it doesn’t matter so much, but on a busy road and the shoulder is non-existent, you sometimes wonder what goes on under the road.  Deformed, gnarled and general decay reminds you that the road is temporary and the earth, sometimes quietly, sometimes with a statement, reclaims its own.

Go Ahead and Dawdle

There was usually some time in each day where I just plain ran out of energy.  I found the best thing to do was to allow myself to dawdle.  Sit up; Stretch; Pedal as slow as I could possibly pedal.  

Dawdling was a way to remind myself that I didn’t have to ride.  I could ride fast or slow, or not ride at all.  No one would know; No one would care. Too ride or not ride was up to me.  Being free is a good thing.

It usually didn’t take long to re-realize that there was no place I’d rather be.  Rested and refreshed I would ride on.

What I Hate About BOB

I wasn’t that he slowed me down.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  What was bothering me was that BOB was “extra”.  One of the things that I like about touring is being self contained.  Pulling the “extra” piece of equipment detracted from the streamlined tight, efficient feeling.  

On the plus side, replacing the panniers with the low center of gravity of the trailer helped a lot with the strong crosswinds.  Packing of course was easier too.

Maybe I don’t hate BOB.  We simply have some issues to work through before the next trip.

Fred Goes to Canada

I brought along the XM radio.  It’s still more of a science fair project than a portable radio.  I was hoping to have it travel-worthy in time for the trip.  I ended up tossing the tangled mess of wires and batteries and plastic parts in the bag.  While not suitable for the handlebars, it set up just fine on the picnic table.

On of my regular stations is “Fred”.  If you know about XM satellite radio, you probably know Fred.  (It’s just a quirky alternative rock station).  It was kind of cool to have a few tunes around the campsite.  

One Potato, Two Potato

I made another version of spud soup for supper. 
One potato (diced)
One Onion (diced)
Green pepper (un-chopped, just to give some boldness to the broth)
Beef Bullion Cube
Boil and eat.  
Next year I may pack a pepper mill.  Fresh ground pepper would be perfect.

Hanging Out

Hammock Trees.  WooHoo!
There have been too few nights where it has been nice enough to even want to linger outside by the fire.

I Didn’t Have Scones to Butter, Anyway.

The camping utensil set that I had came with a spoon, knife and fork.  I’ve used the spoon many times and the fork a few.   I’ve never used the knife.   It’s not sharp enough to cut anything, and I rarely need to butter a scone.  Every time I reviewed my “stuff”, I’d considered leaving it behind, but never got around to removing it from the set (the spoon knife and fork are on a key ring thing).

I’m happy to report that I found a use for the knife.  No, I did not bake or buy scones.   Sometime during the night the bike fell over and landed on the mirror.  The plastic bracket suffered a compound fracture.  With a bit of tape and the scone-buttering-knife I was able to make a splint for the injured mirror.  

I have a love hate relationship with the mirror.  I hate how it ruins the “lines of the bike”.  It looks dorky and un-integrated.  That said, I hate riding without a mirror.  When I hear a big truck approaching, I like to glance in the mirror and see what I’m about to deal with.  

Day 9: Stratford Canada to Acton Canada: 88 miles

The Route

163 north
20 SouthEast
130 North East
36 South East
119 North
43 East
Erbs Road SouthEast
9 East
BridgeStreet East
Woolwich (17) South
Fountain (17) South
Kossuth Rd (31) NorthEast
124 North
Wellington Street North
7 north
York Road (7) north East
44 South East
Guelph Line (1) South East
Siede Road (12) North East
Arrive Campground

The Ride

I rode most of the day on a gravel road.  If it got too bumpy I was going to bail back to the busy blacktop. It was reasonably hard packed and there was virtually no traffic so I stayed.  It did tend to get bumpy by the intersections and at the bottoms of hills.  

Intersecting With Dirt

Long straight roads have a comforting sense of purpose to them.  You know you are riding rural when instead of stop signs, there are yield signs at the intersection.  Way cool!  

Fold, Spindle, and Burn

While I’ve heard it said that a “real man” knows how to re-fold a road map, I think a “real”, real men know that there is not only no need to fold them back in to their original shape, but they can and should be slightly modified to better suite the environment.   

My route was mostly east, so my useful map area usually consisted of a very narrow portion of the purchased product.  By the time I found a county map for the county that I happened to be in, I was usually half of the way through it.  Of an unfolded 3ft x 3ft map, I nominally cared about a very small section.   In order to keep the usable portion handy and usable, I’d immediately rip away the useless portions. If the excess didn’t make such a good campfire starter, I would have felt cheated.

In my zealousness, I’d often rip away the part that had the scale which sometimes made me sad.   

My Turn

I missed my turn.  Directly in my path were a couple of cities.  Near as I could tell, there was no easy way around them so headed straight through.  It looked easy on the map.  It would have been easy if city planners didn’t insist on randomly renaming streets.  I got hopelessly lost in downtown Kitchener.  I ended up in a development complex without an exit.  I asked for directions twice and each time I ended up back where I started.  I explained my problem to a third person and he gave me detailed instructions for getting out.  

Stretching

I took the opportunity to stretch whenever stopped by a light or sign.  A little self administered shoulder and neck rub seemed to help as well.  Rubbing and stretching was not only good for my parts, it also seemed to amuse the waiting drivers.

Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes (knees and toes)

I addition to remembering to stretch when stopped, if I started to feel stiff in my neck or shoulders while riding, I’d cycle through all the hand positions (several times, very quickly).  Although it was an effective technique for getting un-stiff, I’d be stuck with the children’s classic “Head Shoulders knees and toes” humming through my head for the next five miles.  

If you take a look at my handlebars, you’ll see that they are not quite standard.  How many different grips do you suppose I can get out of them? 
* Down on the drops,
* Forward in the drops
* On the hoods
* Hanging beside the hoods
* Resting flat across the top
* On the shoulders
* On the horn shoulders
* On the horns
* Ghost Grip (in each)

Even very subtle changes in position can breathe new life into tired or stiff bones.  The down side is that after using all the positions, by the end of the ride I am totally used up.

Get While the Getting is Good

I used to try to conserve and “hold back” at the beginning of long rides, thinking that I ought to conserve my energy.  I’ve changed that strategy to one of “Get while the getting is good”.   The mile still has to be pedaled, be it in the morning or evening.  I’d rather do it in the morning when fresh.

Riding a couple of miles per hour faster in the morning has a negligible effect on my energy at the end of the day.  Having one less mile to ride at the end of the day is priceless.

Since I didn’t have a do or die timetable, I was free to stop whenever I wanted.   I of course had to be home eventually and about 70 miles a day would get me there in a couple of weeks, give or take a day.   An unofficial goal was get 40 miles out of the way before lunch.  Then (in theory) I could potentially ride another hour or so after lunch and be done for the day.  

Most days turned out longer than seventy, but that was due to want.

Mid Century doldrums

There were times when I felt less than gung-ho.  With the edge of early morning energy long gone, and many miles yet to go, I’d find myself in a subdued mood and feel the need to just press on the pedals and go and get the day’s ride over with.  Oddly enough, putting on a burst of energy would get the blood flowing and like a jolt of espresso in the morning, I’d enjoy the rest ride.

New Energy After 70 -- Putting the day away

The last ten miles or so of each day were the best.  On days with a definite destination I knew when to start celebrating, but even on days that I didn’t, I knew one way or another I was in the final stretch.  Each day was a victory.   Have I mentioned my fear of failure?  Fear might be a little strong – I was committed to succeeding and expected to succeed, didn’t really expect a disaster, but that didn’t mean that I was taking anything for granted.  Too many things:  severe weather, a muscle pull, equipment failure or a million other unpleasant surprises could easily end the trip early.  Every mile was a milestone and each day I put away was cause for celebration.

Good Night

Hammock Trees and weather to go with them!
Very nice night; almost warm.  With a short day into Toronto tomorrow, I lounged and cooked a nice meal:
Steak on a stick
Baked potato  (roasted onion in the center)   
Fresh sliced tomatoes on the side

The roasted onion is a reasonable substitute for butter (really, it’s soft and moist and if there are a couple of caramelized bits, you have an extra treat).  

Still amazed at just how disorganized a single BOB sack can get.  Oddly enough… I found the missing sock!

I figured I was only about fifty miles from Toronto.  The plan was to take the ferry across Lake Ontario from Toronto to Rochester NY.   I toyed with the idea of getting up early and trying to make the early ferry but thankfully came to my senses and reminded myself that I was not in a hurry.   The ferry ran twice a day:  late morning and another late afternoon.   Neither time was convenient.  I figured it to be about 90+ miles from Rochester to home (Syracuse).   The morning ferry would put me in pretty late to get in a long ride, and the late afternoon one would mean that I’d not have a lot of daylight left to find a campsite for the night near Rochester.   

Day 10: Acton Canada to Toronto Canada: 76 miles

The Route

12 North East
25 North West
7 North East
Dixie Road (4) South East
LakeShore Blvd NorthEast
Arrive Ferry teminal
Depart Ferr Terminal
LakeShore Blvd NorthEast
Kingston Road North East
Warden Ave North West
Ellesmere Road North East
Markham Road North
Progress Ave West

The Ride

A tailwind.  Woo hoo, a tailwind.  The road was busy and the shoulder nearly non-existent, but since it was going to be a reasonably short ride, I couldn’t bring myself to give up the wind for a better road.  It was only about 30 miles to the lake.  The last 20 were white knuckle brutal.

Disappearing Lanes

As I got closer and closer to Toronto, the road on which I was riding got busier and busier.  Totonto is where many very fast roads converge.  The right lane of my road kept turning into a right-turn-only entrance ramp for very a fast road going north or a very fast road going south.  Drivers destined for those very fast roads would start to go very fast before they were actually on the very fast roads.  

Escaping from the right turn only lanes is a tricky thing. If you wait too long, then pretty soon you have to cut completely across the path of those very fast right turning cars.  Darting across the lane at the last minute feels a bit like being inside the Frogger Arcade and you are down to your last quarter.

If you bear to the left as soon as the Right Turn Only lane starts to materialize, there is an unnerving section where you have cars on your right and on your left.  Even though you are where you are supposed to be, it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere.

Extra diabolical is when the road suddenly turns to four lanes and the evil green sign overhead says left two lanes for that-a-way and right two lanes for this-away.   I’ve no good advice for how to transition into the that-a-way lanes.  Good luck.

Calm

On purpose, I aimed about 15 miles south of Toronto.  I had heard that there was a pretty nice bike trail along the Ontario shore.  

The lakeshore trail was fantastic!  The evilness of the last twenty miles were immediately erased and forgotten.

The shoreline trail was mostly a true “shore line” trail. It linked several parks together and occasionally it would “end” as it wound its way through a quiet neighborhood, then it would go back to being right along the beach.   The neighborhoods were friendly and nice.  They had an old feel to them, and were inhabited by regular folk who must have moved there before “Lakeshore property condominiums” were invented.

There were kids selling lemonade in the first little neighborhood I popped into.  They were pushing the pink stuff and selling scary looking cookies.  I opted for a glass of regular and passed on the cookies.

In the next neighborhood I stopped at a sidewalk Café for coffee and apple pie.

Did I mention how relaxing the shoreline trail was?  I was very glad that I didn’t try to sprint to catch the morning Ferry.  The trail was great and with nearly a whole day to waste, I averaged 5mph on purpose.  My last stop along the trail was a hotdog vendor.  No, no kraut, just mustard, thanks.

It’s Still Not Canada’s Fault, But…

I had trouble getting into Canada.  It turned out getting out didn’t go smooth either.  

After the very relaxing ride along the shore I headed for the Ferry with hours to spare.  Even by fraidy-scared-worry-wort brother Tom’s standards, I was early.  

I walked up to the window for ticket and the nice man said “Sorry,  the boat is full!”  What, not even room enough for a bike?  I knew that for cars they recommended reservations, but assumed that getting a bike on board would not be a problem.  I guess I figured wrong.  The man mumbled something about safety regulations or something.  I wondered if BOB would float and would maybe help in a not enough room in the lifeboat situation.  Anyway, I bought a ticket for tomorrow and started to wonder where I’d stay for the night.  I’d have to back track pretty far to get out of the city and into camping country so resigned myself to stay in a hotel for the night.  

The nice man at the Ferry gave me a tourist map which listed hotels.  None seemed very close.  Down by the docks was not a hotel friendly area.   Even though they looked slightly closer, my aversion to backtracking kept me from going south and towards the airport where it looked like there would be plenty of hotels to choose from.  I instead headed north.  The fine print on the map said “not to scale”, but I took that to mean that you ought not use it to calibrate your odometer and assumed places and distances were in rough proportion to reality.  Again, I figured wrong.  

I was looking for Markum Road.  It felt a lot like the (annoying( Marco-Polo  pool game.  The road was sometimes near and sometimes far, depending on who I asked.

Not to Scale

Puzzling over a map is a good way to meet friendly folk.   Every time I stopped to puzzle of the map, someone would usually stop and ask if they could help.  Some gave me a blank look and didn’t recognize the destination at all.  Some said, “oh, you are almost there”.  (Which I found to be untrue after a few more miles of riding).  One lady looked at me and my bike and confidently said:  “three or four hours”.    

Non-bike riders ought not estimate time or distance!  

I knew that I was making progress, since I was seeing intersections that were listed on my map, but was getting more than a little worried about the distance.  I’d been going for an hour and still no hotel.  Finally I got the bright idea to call the hotel for directions.  The girl on the phone knew where I was and could tell me how to get there, but when asked about distance she was clueless.  Since I knew where the airport was, I decided a different approach would be to ask her how for she was from the airport.  The best she could tell me was that it was a 60 dollar cab ride.    At least I was headed in the right direction, and just how much farther could it be, anyway?

Turned out to be fifteen miles.  Through town, that’s about an hour and half.  I really wasn’t looking forward to retracing the path during morning rush hour.

I found it amusing when I stopped at a station and asked for directions and the guy knew exactly where I was headed.  He started to rattle of crossroads and directions and I broke in to ask, yes, but how far?  “A mile or so?”  No, no he assured me.  “Much less than that.  Only two or three kilometers.”  (Canadians convert to miles about as well as I convert to kilometers (for the record, it’s about 1.6 km per mile).  

Tired of Tepid

I was a bit bummed that now, nearly done with the trip I was staying in a hotel for the first time.  I felt better as I sat at the bar and tipped a cold beer and ate a steak sandwich.  Civilization is not without merit.

I happen to like the taste of beer.  After two weeks of warm water and gaterade, I liked it a lot.

Day 11: Toronto Canada to Webster NY: 42 miles

The Route

Ferry from Toronto to Rochester
South on Lake Avenue
East on Driving Park Avenue
South on St Paul Street
East on Clifford Avenue
East on Empire Blvd (404)
North on Empire Blvd
East on Ridge Road
North on Holt Road
West on Lake Road
South into Webster Park Campgrounds

The Ride

Getting from the hotel to the ferry was another white knuckle ride through traffic.  
Toronto traffic in the morning was just as lovely as you would imagine it to be.

Cycling in the City

Cars honking at each other make me nervous.  Either the honker is surly or the honkee deserves it.  I’d rather not share a lane with either one of them.

Act Like You Belong

Riding in traffic has a lot in common with riding in weather.  Given that a bike will have no impact, then simply accepting it is half the problem.  Getting the drivers to accept the “cloud” pedaling through the middle of their parade is the other half of the problem.

The best way to ride in traffic or on roads with no shoulder is to act like you belong.  If you look scared or skittish, then the drivers will think you don’t belong and treat you as such.  If you need to be on the road and there is no shoulder, the best plan is to take whatever part of the road you need, then be bold and predictable.  The more you look like you belong; the drivers will treat you more like a slow moving tractor or a double parked car.  They may not like having to slow down or go around you, but are less likely to do something dangerous. (Cut you off, squeeze, to close, etc)

I made it to the Ferry Dock pretty early so had time to stop at a diner for a fried egg sandwich (sadly without a muffin).

Against the fence

At first I felt like I was being discriminated against when the nice man told me to “go wait by the fence”.  I felt better when some motorcyclists arrived and they were also relegated to the fence (behind me).  They found it funny to be in line behind a pedal bike.  I led the parade onto the Ferry.  Being put by the fence wasn’t so bad after all.  The Ferry was HUGE and very cool.   

Longshoreman Baggage Handler

When I got on the Ferry I noticed the motorcycle guys were anchoring their bikes to big cleats on the deck with wide strong straps.   The nice man told me to just leave my bike and “he’d take care of it”.  Yikes.  I could just imagine him putting one of those straps across it and with a single yank bending it in half.  His priorities would be to make sure nothing went sliding around his deck.  My other worry was that it’s a bit tricky to even move the bike with BOB attached.  If he decided to move it, he could easily bend or break something.
 
I had visions of a coming back to a twisted gnarled mess and the nice man offering to help me un-bend it.  I lingered for a while, but finally was forced to go up on deck with the other passengers.  

When we docked, the bike was exactly as I had left it.  Whew!  Since it was leaning against the door, I led the parade off of the Ferry.

Pulling into port, I noticed that we had a Coast Guard escort, complete with guys on deck with M16s.  I’ve no clue what they were protecting us from.   

Customs was a breeze.  Too late to make a dash for home, I went looking for a campground.

It took longer than I thought to get to the campground.  The most direct route was across a “seasonal draw bridge”.  They leave the darn thing open all summer long.  The second best route was across a bridge that was part of a major highway that did not allow bikes.  The third best route (no longer best) was down around the inlet that was in my way, making what should have been 5 mile ride, a 25 mile ride.  

Gnome Home

The campground was quiet and nice.  The caretaker lived in a small log cabin that looked like it had been decorated by elves.   Very quaint.  Maybe I was just jealous of his job.

While checking in, I talked to an older couple who said that they had once took a 1300 mile bike trip with their two kids (ages 9 and 12).  Yikes.  Now that just seems foolish.

Free Parking and other Peeves

I’ve noticed that I move (extremely) slow around the campground.  Of course I’ve no place to be and am not in a hurry, but it’s troubling just the same.   Yikes!  I’ve become a mall walker.  

I walked (slowly) down to the shower only to find that it was another one of those coin operated deals.  Back to the camp to rummage for change and then back to the shower.  Ack!  Not only was it a pay shower, it only took tokens.  Back to the ranger for some tokens.  Bad enough to have to pay extra for the shower worse was to have to decide in advance how many tokens I would need.  The tokens were pricey at 50 cents each.  I splurged for two.  

I guess it’s just the way of the world to pay extra for camp showers and parking at ball games.

Salami and cheese on a croissant was dinner for the day.

Day 12: Webster NY to Syracuse NY: 87 miles

The Route

North Out of  Webster Park Campgrounds
East on Lake Road
South on Eaton Road
South on Geneva Road
East in 104
South on 414
East on Genesee Street
South on Church Street
East in 31
South on 173
East on State Fair Blvd
South on Center street
South on Gillis Street
West on Bacon
South on Terry Road
West on Clover
South on Newcastle
Home!


The Ride

You’d think that for the last (NewYork) leg, I could maybe have planned the route in advance or something.  I didn’t on purpose.  I wanted it to be a ride like no other day.  Except for the last few miles that were obviously familiar, I was pleasantly surprised by the ride.  

Average speed for the trip was about 12.5 mph.  On this last day, I was riding perhaps a bit slower.  Partly because it was probably the best (or at least warmest) weather of the trip.  Mostly I rode slow because I wanted to fully appreciate the trip and I was in no hurry for it to end.

Pedaling Poetry
I am amazed at what goes through my head while riding.  I think I’ve written several novels, and a prize winning poem or two while pedaling.  The trouble is, the creative flow stops abruptly when the pedals stop turning.  It’s very much like the bike-lights that are pedal powered.  The faster you pedal, the brighter they burn.  When the pedaling stops, they hold a charge for a few seconds, then rapidly grow dim.

Sights, sounds, scenes and epiphanies along the way are vivid seem unforgettable.
As soon as I stop, I remember that it was good, but the specifics evaporate.

These notes you are reading here represent the faded images of what was.

The only way to experience the ride is to … ride.  

The Last Hill


About a mile from home, I approached “the hill”.  It’s easily one of the steepest hills I know.  I usually only tackle it when I am in a particularly sadistic punish myself training ride mood.   It would have been easy to ride another quarter mile and deal with a much less aggressive grade, but somehow this last obstacle in my way seemed a fitting way to end the trip.  

After a long draw from the water bottle I tucked in my elbows, hunkered down and headed in the direction of up. Downshift.  Downshift.  Downshift again.  Heart, lungs and legs were all operating at capacity and just when I thought I’d given all I had to give, I saw the summit.   Up off the saddle, standing on the pedals, I powered over the crest.   After 12 days, 968 miles and one last monster hill, I felt good.

Day 13:  After the Ride

Bikes Without Baggage Can Fly

The day after -- after nearly two weeks of dragging BOB around, I went for a bike ride without all the baggage.   I felt strong and good.   It happened to be windy, but without BOB, I hardly noticed.

I managed to lose about 10 pounds of body weight too.  I probably could have lost more if I had avoided the bakeries.  I probably would have lost less if I’d been in better shape before the start.  

Plan B

As a sometimes project manager, the (lack of) preplanning for this trip bothered me.   

As anyone within earshot could attest, I did a considerable about of whining and lamenting about my lack of preparation before starting this year’s trip.  In hindsight, I think I did the proper amount.  Last year’s ride was a new thing for me, was much shorter, and presented different kinds of challenges.  The planning I did last year was probably appropriate and prudent.  

I was somehow trying to fit this year’s ride into last year’s mold.  The reason I “failed” in the planning phase was no doubt partly due to lazy procrastination, but in fairness, I made several attempts and always ended up frustrated.  There were just too many variables.

A much better plan was the plan I used:  Start with a basic structure and rely on general knowledge and experience to get me through the day to day bumps.  I think it would have been wrong (and I would not have enjoyed the trip as much) if I had planned out every turn and stop in advance.

At least for this trip anyway, having a good solid Plan-B was the way to go – leaving plan A to be the “just wing it” plan.   Fallback Plan-B was to bike from town to town staying in hotels.  Not as cool as camping, but it would have got me home.  

On a daily basis, Plan-B would often take the form of pick a town (either from a map or from a distance decree on a road sign) and make that my lunch destination.  That would add just enough structure to break the tie when it came to “which way to turn” decisions and provide intermediate milestones upon which to focus my pedaling energy.    More oft than not, some attractive diner called to me before the planned stop, or I took a road that turned me away from the plan.  No big deal.  A solid plan-B was a framework and safety net that allowed plan-A to flourish midst endless possibilities.  The adrenaline rushes derived from the moments of “what do I do now?” were the highlight of the trip.
 

Why

And finally… the answer to the question:   Why?   
I had a general urge to do something on a grand scale.  “Ordinary” becomes evil with age, I think.  Maybe more middle aged angst talking, but being able ought not to be taken for granted.  I did it because I could.

Life is pretty good when on your to-do list for the day is simply: “wake up and ride”.