Month: July 2017

July 4, 2017 Clearmont, WY

 

Howard writing:

Today was another short day – just 30 flat miles from Buffalo to Clearmont – designed to break up the long and desolate distance remaining to Gillette. Yesterday, we took a break in Buffalo, Wyoming, just east of the Big Horn Mountains. We did laundry, resupplied food, and drove up to the great western town of Sheridan, by way of Fort Phil Kearney.

The ride on Sunday from Ten Sleep to near the summit of the Powder River Pass was (here I go again) utterly gorgeous.

It was uphill all 21 miles, with an elevation gain of around 4000 feet. The weather was cool and clear, and the gradient was not anything like Teton Pass (12%+) and the scenery distracted from any burning muscles. Ten Sleep Canyon is popular and prized by rock climbers – I saw many moving their gear to the base of various limestone cliffs.

Because the riding day was short, arriving in camp by 2;00 PM with a whole afternoon to read by the shore of Meadowlark Lake felt like a luxurious layover day.

The campground was fully reserved, but Wendy was able to appeal to a wonderful couple from Billings, MT, who graciously agreed to share their site with us.

These folks, Patrick and Carla, and their friends, Mike and Mona, were generous with more than their campsite. They brought us plates of hors d’oeuvres (grilled salmon), watermelon, orzo salad, and rhubarb cake – all of which we speedily devoured. Later, we were invited to their campfire and learned much about the political and social climates of Wyoming and Montana. They believe that Wyoming is in an economic crisis now because the state’s leaders had failed to see beyond the oil and gas gravy train that has been feeding the state’s economy, with the result that Wyoming has lost much of it’s economic base. They said that Montana, on the other hand, has long worked to develop a more diversified economy, with tourism providing a buffer to the fluctuations of extractive industries. Montana also has a much deeper environmental stewardship ethic. It soon emerged that Patrick, Carla, Mike and Mona are progressive Democrats who are as appalled as we are by Trump’s actions and behavior. Our evening ended with the best Irish coffee we had ever had, prepared with great care by Patrick. Meeting these two couples was one of those serendipitous things that add so much richness to a trip like ours.

On Monday we continued over the Powder River summit (at 9666’, the highest elevation of the ride, and the last mountain pass remaining on the route to the Atlantic) and down into Buffalo.

The ride included 2500’ of elevation gain, but a whopping 6000’ of elevation loss. Wendy is now a strong cyclist – her day included over 3000 feet of elevation gain, as she rode over the summit with me and then turned around and went back up the other direction.

Buffalo is a town of 4000 residents, with a two-block picturesque main street. It has a storied history related to the Bozeman Trail to the goldfields of Montana, and the destruction of traditional American Indian life in the 19th century.

A few miles north lies Fort Phil Kearny, where in 1866 the combined tribes of the Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, Crow, and Arapaho under Lakota Chief Red Cloud wiped out a contingent of 80 US soldiers garrisoned at Ft Kearny. Until Custer’s annihilation at Little Big Horn 10 years later, this was the single biggest loss of US soldiers in the Indian Wars. The 1866 battle came about as a result of repeated violations of an 1851 treaty guaranteeing Indian rights to most of the fertile hunting grounds in the region. We spoke with the young woman who is the superintendent at Ft Kearny, and she is working very hard to tell the deeper story of westward expansion and the consequences for the indigenous tribes, the Anglo settlers, and the US Army soldiers. Right now, interpretation at Ft Kearny revolves around the military tactics of the battle known either as the Fetterman Massacre (current name), or the Battle of 100-in-Hand (Lakota name).

In Buffalo, we were reminded that we’re in the Wild West when we chatted with a young man carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his waistband. Along with hunting being very prevalent, “Open Carry” prevails out here.

After returning from Sheridan and Ft Kearny, we went to hear some absolutely great country music at the historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. Or was it the smooth sipping whiskey we drank that made it so enjoyable?

This morning, we traded stories and advice with a couple – a soon-to-be retired Methodist minister and his wife – who also own a 2017 T@B trailer.

These campground conversations are another wonderful aspect of this great trip.

Wendy writing:

Happy 4th of July to all! Surprisingly, Buffalo did not have any 4th of July festivities. Now in Clearmont, we enjoyed a buffet dinner and music by a bonfire at the beautiful Ranch at Ucross, a guest ranch that has just opened the new (and bare bones) campground where we are staying ten miles away.

Sunset is really late at this latitude so a fireworks display won’t be until almost 10:00 PM – we saw the fireworks from a vista point overlooking Sheridan before calling it a night.

Luckily/happily we were able to work out holiday weekend reservations at the last minute for all but the one night at Meadowlark Lake in the Big Horn Mountains. As Howard said, I was fortunately able to work out sharing a large site with another wonderful couple and their RV. This was the second time that I had to get creative to secure a campsite (the other time was at Craters of the Moon, which does not allow advance reservations). It’s a pretty compelling story that I have cyclist(s) meeting me who are cycling cross-country, the campground is our rendezvous point, and communication regarding a change in plan is impossible without cell service. Both times worked out well with lovely interactions (though hopefully we can plan ahead better, so that I won’t need to be “creative” again).

During Reed and Amanda’s time with us and since, we seem to finally have worked out our systems, the sun is shining (no more rain!), and we are healthy; the trip is feeling more fun than work – yay! We are having a wonderful time.

With the shorter cycling day into the Big Horn Mountains, we actually found time to sit and read books by Meadowlark Lake.

I’ve played guitar quite a few times. With our layover in Buffalo, there was even time for stretches with our ground cloth and roller in our campsite and working on our blog.

Today was a shorter day from Buffalo to Clearmont (Howard cycled 31 miles; my round trip was longer at 38 miles). We have the afternoon with a fast wifi connection, allowing us to post this blog entry.

In Ten Sleep, we miraculously pulled off a rendezvous with Jennifer, another alto in my San Francisco chorus, and her husband, Stuart, who are also enjoying travels with their trailer this summer. It was great fun to share stories and enjoy dinner and beer with these lovely people at an open-air brewery with live bluegrass music.

I highly recommend an e-bike as a way to enjoy cycling while building strength. Three days ago, my ride was 31 miles round trip with half of the miles ascending. On my first ascent of the Powder River Pass, I used low assist; I used increasingly more e-assist in the 7 miles of climbing back to the summit on my second ascent.

For three days, I really enjoyed listening to a radio station that plays Native American music 24/7 – very evocative as I drove our van and trailer through this area that once was their land. Lots to think about there…

Politics have been interesting, to say the least. We met like-minded people with a Trump “dammit doll” in our Thermopolis campsite –

and clearly others with a different viewpoint in Ten Sleep, a cute town just west of the Big Horn Mountains.

As Howard said, the scenery has been gorgeous with great cycling. The roads have consistently been great with a wide shoulder; the drivers passing us typically pull into the open oncoming lane, leaving lots of space between them and us. The beautiful snow peaked Big Horn Mountains are now behind us –

we’re on to the wide-open range now.

 Seeing deer and antelope – “home, home on the range” definitely comes to mind.

 

July 8, 2017 Rapid City, South Dakota (a side trip via car from Newell)

Wendy writing:

Post script regarding our 4th of July evening: Waiting in line to get a pre-dinner drink from the Ranch bar, we met our first outspoken and extremely rude Trump supporters, a couple from South Carolina.

We wished him a happy 4th of July which turned on a hostile faucet. A sampling of things said by them:

Government screws everything up.

What did he like about Trump? Everything.

When I said that I’m from California, she said, “I’m so sorry.”

California should secede from the country – the country would be so much better off.

She said that when she came home as a Democrat from college to her Republican parents, her father said that it is was a good thing to be a Democrat for a while to develop some heart, but that by age 25, she should become a Republican to show that she has brains.

When talking about how divided our country is, he said that we need a good war to unite us.

Ironically she said that our country needs less hate.

The fireworks display later in the evening was also unusual. The fireworks were coordinated with a radio station which played ominous / apocalyptic music (not one traditional patriotic song – the closest the music came to being “patriotic” was a country music song about America kicking some ass) – very strange.

Moving on: the good news – there are very few mosquitoes as we’re now in a drier part of the country; the bad news – it’s HOT (90 to 100+ degrees). “Lucky us” – South Dakota is having a notable heat wave… Thank goodness for our trailer’s air conditioner.

Just as we had sorted out our systems, it’s time for new systems to be sorted out to allow for really early morning starts.

Root beer floats are my go to refreshment on these hot days – it’s my childhood in a glass (my family had root beer floats / black cows in the hot summer evenings in Illinois).

Robins have been really common. They are my childhood in a bird – growing up in Illinois, we eagerly looked for the return of the robins to mark the beginning of spring.

Beyond getting stronger on my e-bike, I’m maintaining my upper body and core strength from the process of emptying out half of the van to put my bike into the van, to then putting everything back into the van around the bike. Staying strong!

After Clearmont, we moved to Gillette, Wyoming – where there is a large surface coal mining operation. In the evening, we enjoyed stops at a brewery and a meadery (mead is an alcoholic drink made from honey, yeast, and water – a lovely aperitif).

The meadery owner shared a couple of interesting comments: that he had moved back to Gillette from Seattle as he loved the wide open spaces (Wyoming’s population of 600,000 is less than San Francisco’s population); he had not voted for Trump – but that if Hillary had won and closed down the coal mine that it would have done in the town.

As we left Gillette on July 6, I opted to go on a two-hour coal mine tour instead of cycling (on another very hot day). The map below shows where coal is located in the US. The light green zones here in Wyoming have low sulfur coal that Phil, the tour guide, said is in high demand. The east coast has the underground mines; this area has surface mines – no one is going underground. The black dots show where there are coal burning power plants – virtually none are along the West Coast.

A surface coal mine is exactly that – the mining involves blasting and moving soil from the top of the coal seams, then blasting and hauling the coal in giant bed trucks to a machine that crushes it into 2 inch pieces where it is loaded onto train cars and delivered to power plants.

   

After a coal seam has been fully mined (which has devastated the area), the mining company is required to restore the land with native vegetation, alfalfa crops, etc. Phil said that the monitoring by the EPA and environmentalists was key to the good outcomes; without the monitoring, he felt that industry would cut corners.

After the mine tour, I then drove to Devils Tower National Monument to rendezvous with Howard and Doug Donaldson (our good friend from the Bay Area who grew up in South Dakota and is joining us for two weeks on the road, ending in Minneapolis). Devils Tower is a sacred place to Native Americans – Junkyu Muto, a Japanese artist, created the Wind Circle (“Sacred Circle of Smoke”) as his third sculpture in the world for world peace (The Vatican and place where Buddha was born were the first two sites).

Devils Tower NM is also home to a large prairie dog town – such cute animals with a social structure and language.

 

Having grown up in South Dakota, Doug is giving us a personalized tour of the beautiful Black Hills area and Rapid City; Prairie Edge is an amazing store with Native American art, beads, furniture;

AND we’ve been able to join his extended family at their beautiful place on the banks of Rapid Creek for two nights of camping – absolutely gorgeous place and generous people.

       

Howard writing:

The rides from Clearmont to Gillette (68 miles) and from Gillette to Devil’s Tower (63 miles) were hot, hot, HOT. The scenery was mostly dreary and uninteresting. Riding in 98 degree weather is not a great idea under any circumstance, but add in some major climbs and it is downright grim.

Still, I broke up the rides with cool-down stops in some cafes along the route,

and still had enough gas in the tank to ride another 79 miles from Devil’s Tower to Newell, SD, on Friday (with a high of a mere 94 degrees). The hot weather ahead of us on the trip will dictate early starts each day – by 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM at the latest.

As Wendy noted, Gillette is one of the centers of Wyoming’s coal industry. Wyoming produces nearly 40% of the nation’s coal, which I found surprising.

Cycling by these open pit mines and seeing mile-long coal trains is an interesting experience. At one point, I had to pull to the side of the road to make way for a truck transporting a new coal truck bed that spanned almost two entire lanes of the highway.

The ride to Newell from Devil’s Tower was quite scenic, and included several small towns – Hulett and Aladdin, WY, and Belle Fourche, SD — that were great places to take snack and lunch breaks.

Turns out that Belle Fourche is the geographical center of the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska).

The roads in SD are not quite up to the standards of OR, ID, or WY, and the state road department tends to hide the rumble strips in very narrow shoulders with an outboard gradient. Still, I think they will be okay for cycling.

It was great to have Doug for the initial ride into South Dakota, and it has been a wonderful respite to visit his very generous and affable relatives in Rapid City. He is a long-time river rafting friend (first trip was in 1980), and one of my original cycling buddies when I took up serious recreational riding a dozen years ago. He is a strong cyclist. I will appreciate his companionship every long mile across the South Dakota prairie and all the way to Minneapolis over the next 9 days.

I have now cycled over 1500 miles since the trip began.  Wendy has cycled over 550 miles.

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Note: Drew has just taught us how to post higher resolution photos – we have just linked all of our photos. You can click any photo that you’d like to see full screen. Thanks, Drew!

July 13, 2017 Fisher Grove State Park, Frankfort, South Dakota

Wendy writing:

We are excited – and amazed – to see that we are almost half way across the continent. We have definitely left the West behind – and are now in the Midwest with its generally flat terrain (with gentle rolling hills). Without mountains, forested areas, and major buildings, we have been really enjoying the “big skies.”

The amount of open space is astounding – we can really see how someone who lives here in South Dakota would find San Francisco (and other cities) oppressive and over-congested.

Forests and the open range are gone; gorgeous farmlands abound with corn (“knee high by the 4th of July,” according to our friend, Doug), soybeans, wheat, hay, and corn.

We have just passed through a drought region of South Dakota. The dry farm crops that rely only on rain are very stunted.

Winds! South Dakota almost always has wind, often quite strong – which fortunately has mostly worked for the eastward cycling direction. When I turn back to cycle back to the van and trailer, I often experience headwinds – but no problem with my e-bike (I just add more assist if needed). At Devils Tower, a storm front moved in – starting with extreme enough wind to blow our two-burner propane stove right off of the picnic table.

I continue to enjoy the cycling each travel day, loving the smells – wildflowers, newly mown hay; and loving being alone in the middle of such open space when I stop on my return trip back to move the van and trailer.

Traffic has generally been very light, though much of the traffic is HUGE equipment and/or loads. Courteous drivers continue to give us a wide berth when passing.

Due to a forecast of extreme heat (104 degrees for just one day), we adjusted our itinerary so that we could resume cycling on a “cooler” day (“only” 97 and 98 degrees for the following days). To pick up cycling where we left off before our side trip to Rapid City, we returned to Newell, South Dakota – enjoying a tour by Doug of the Black Hills, Sturgis (site of a major motorcycle festival),

and Bear Butte (another prominent mountain that is sacred to the Native Americans).

For the 97 and 98 degree days, our mornings began at 5:30 and 5:00 respectively in order to ride some major miles in the cooler morning hours. I, for one, rarely see sunrises – we were greeted by a gorgeous dawn on our first early rise morning.

Still, this put Howard and Doug cycling into the hot afternoons. Again, thank goodness for our trailer and its air conditioning – instead of sitting around a campfire in camp, we holed up to “sit around the air conditioning,” eating, trip planning, and sleeping inside with the AC (as the evening cooled down a bit, Doug moved to the tent to sleep).

We have discovered that many of the small towns have very nice camping in the main city park with electric hookups for RVs (Faith and Faulkton so far; Montevideo in a few days) – amazing to see that it works without people taking advantage of this free / very low cost camping option.

Faulkton has a public swimming pool – it felt like childhood revisited to ride our bikes (without helmets) from our camp site to the pool, swim and shower there, ride our bikes to a nearby café for a root beer float and milkshake – and then finally back to camp. A really fun afternoon – and we even needed jackets in the evening and following morning!

Other than in national parks, it has been very surprising to find that there are no recycling programs in any of the states we’ve been through (including Oregon, which I had thought was the first to recycle) – and to have plastic bags in stores (so MANY plastic bags!).

We got a reprieve from the heat today (high temp of 79 / 80 degrees – lovely!), so we enjoyed sleeping in as well as cooler temps for cycling. The forecast shows that the temperature will climb almost 20 degrees tomorrow (for the next 5 days)…

 

Howard writing:

The beauty of the plains is of a very subtle variety, in contrast to the breathtaking Western scenery we left behind after the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Endless vistas of a mostly flat landscape are filled with cloud-studded skies over fields of hay, wheat, or corn in gradations of gold, yellow, and green.

Population is sparse across South Dakota, as it was in the states we traveled through, but towns are few and far between in most of this state.

Livestock definitely outnumber humans by a wide margin here.

The ride from Newell to Faith (76 miles) was a hot one, with no tree cover to be found anywhere outside of the very few towns we passed.

We faced a choice on Tuesday – ride to Eagle Butte (42 miles) in the center of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, with no camping options and minimalist hotels, or push on eastward as far as we could and possible rely on Wendy to shuttle us to the Missouri River for a place to stay. The afternoon temperatures were around 97-98 degrees.

Doug chose the wise option of riding to Eagle Butte, and then throwing his bike in the van with Wendy. I decided I was feeling strong, and felt I had it in me to ride to West Whitlock Recreation Area above the eastern shore of Oahe Reservoir, which impounds the Missouri River. So on I rode, across a very parched landscape, crossing the wide Missouri on a mile-long bridge at mile 96.

I dragged my tired ass into the campground at mile 98.3 around 3:00 PM – the peak heat of the day…98 degrees. A short power nap and a cold beer later, I was revived.

Yesterday, we rode a very sane 57 miles to Faulkton, a lovely town with another campground in the city park.

Kids in the town ride their bikes to and from the town swimming pool   As Wendy pointed out, these wonderful camping opportunities are provided by many towns in South Dakota and Minnesota, and we have already planned on using a few as we cross into Minnesota in a few days.

A word about the people of South Dakota: they are sincerely friendly and kind. Friendliness has been our experience along the entire route from Oregon, but it seems to me that South Dakotans are the most welcoming yet.

Today, we had an ever-easier day – we rode 47 miles to a state park near Frankfort. Doug and I broke it up with lunch in a main street café in Redfield, a town of several thousand people, the largest town we have seen since Rapid City. The landscape became immediately more varied after we passed through Redfield. The severe drought is not nearly so evident in this county.

This is pheasant country. Wendy and I walked into a cornfield this morning to get a closer look at a pheasant we saw land just 50 yards away. We never saw the bird, though I have flushed several over the last few days.

It’s been great cycling with Doug through his home state. He knows all the roadside crops, and has endless stories about the many people who he knew in his years in Deadwood and Pierre. It’s like riding with a cycling version of Garrison Keillor.

This evening, we walked on a path near our campsite, along the edge of a field of tall grass. The brilliant light at dusk was stunning. Sadly, we found 5 ticks on Wendy when we returned. It’s all part of the adventure.

 

 

 

 

July 23, 2017 Chippewa Falls, WI

 Howard writing:

Somehow, we cycled through an entire state (Minneapolis) without finding the time for another blog post. This is a testament to how full our days have been, and how easy it is to procrastinate on the work involved in writing our narratives, selecting photos, and merging the two. The result of a delay like this is that there is a lot to cover, because the experiences just keep on coming. We’ll work on a full post in the next few days.

July 25, 2017 Amherst Junction, Wisconsin

Howard writing:

At last – a day to sleep in, wash socks, plan the next few weeks, and catch up on the blog.

We’re camped at a county park around 10 miles southwest of the university town of Steven’s Point.  More specifically, we’re writing this post from a craft brewery near Steven’s Point. Where better to gather inspiration to describe our activities and impressions of the past 11 days?

When last we posted, we were 550 miles west of here, in eastern South Dakota,  rolling through a land of huge expanses, but watching the land become steadily more verdant, with healthier corn stalks already beginning to tassle, and welcoming the appearance of lakes – lots of lakes. The lakes are the remains of a period of significant glaciation that affected eastern SD and all of Minnesota.

From Fisher’s Grove, we cycled to Pelican Lake, just south of Watertown, where we had a layover day.

On the way to Watertown, we passed through Doland, SD, birthplace of Hubert Humphrey, which is all but deserted now.

We had coffee and a very impactful conversation with two women who own a flower shop/beauty parlor/coffee bar.  We all were struck by how people who live struggle to make ends meet are affected by things like health care policy.  Wendy will describe the conversation in greater depth.

After leaving Doland, Doug and I cycled to Clark for lunch.  Just before reaching the town, we came upon a great homegrown sculpture park in a roadside field.  This great shot by Doug captures the whimsy.

There were also some cycling-related pieces just as we entered town.

This part of SD is clearly more prosperous than the area to the immediate west.  Clark had many very pretty small houses, any of which could probably have been bought for the cost of a high-end SUV.

Farm equipment dealers are a regular roadside feature near the larger towns.

Political, religious and marketing statements are to be seen fairly regularly on our route.  Some are very clear in their messages; some are ambiguous

I forgot to mention that the night before we left Fisher’s Grove, I disassembled and cleaned my seat post and saddle and eliminated a creaky sound that had been driving me absolutely crazy since before we left the Bay Area.   Ah, relief!

At Pelican Lake, we stayed two nights so we could rest up a bit.  We enjoyed Watertown (population 23,000), with its old Main Street.  We were just an hour late in arriving at a park for a 3-day BBQ festival/sandcastle contest in a local park.

We ate frickles (beer battered and fried dill pickles, with chipotle sauce) as an appetizer for dinner in town.  You say you haven’t tried frickles?  They’re damn good!

The night of the layover, Wendy plucked a tick off my chest.   It had started to make itself at home, but hadn’t been there long enough to do any damage.  This is the first tick I’ve hosted in my entire life.  We’re not sure if I picked up this on at Fisher Grove or Pelican Lake.

The next day we left South Dakota bound for Montevideo, Minnesota – a distance of 84 miles.  We entered Minnesota – with a low contrast sign set back from the road, making it difficult to see.

The land had been descending steadily since central South Dakota, and the parched lands of South Dakota gave way to a region of lakes – lots of lakes.  The crops were greener and healthier looking than just a few miles west.

We rode for 9 miles on a closed road that day – no traffic, obviously, and perfect paving.  The following day, we didn’t have the same luck ignoring a road closure.

Montevideo has a very pretty Main Street, which still seems to have life in it, but since we were cycling through on a Sunday, it was deserted.

The town-provided camping site was very lovely.

On July 17, we rode 69 miles from Montevideo to Hutchinson, MN.  The heat was oppressive.  Faced again with a “Road Closed” sign, and the prospect of a 10-mile detour, Doug and I decided to ignore the sign.  We did indeed avoid the detour, but in return we had our brains rattled on rough gravel, and had to push our bikes 1/2 mile on a stretch that was loose soil from shoulder to shoulder.  All of this with temps in the 90’s.  You roll the dice – sometimes you win, sometime you lose.  Having Doug as a cycling companion for stretches of road like this made a huge difference for me.

Relief that day came in the form of one of Minnesota’s magnificent long-distance rail-trials.  We picked up the tree lined and heavily shaded Luce Line Trail just west of Montevideo and rode it directly to our campsite in the city park.  

Sometime a few decades ago, Minnesota made the decision to convert most of the abandoned spur railroad lines into recreation trails.  Some of them run for hundreds of miles, and all of them are a cyclist’s dream come true.

For 50 of the 62 miles from Hutchinson to Minneapolis, we were on one or another of these trails.  Doug picked a route for us along the edge of famous Lake Minnetonka to Hopkins, the town where he had gone to high school.  A rainstorm caught us before we got to Hopkins.We continued the “this is your life, Doug Donaldson” tour into Hopkins, stopping for a photo at the Doug’s old house on our way to the home of his wonderful cousin, Ken, and his wife Jan.  Ken and Jan were our affable hosts for 3 nights.

From our base in Ken and Jan’s driveway, we explored Minneapolis by bike with Doug – 31 miles, all but one mile on dedicated trails and bikeways.  Minneapolis has good reason to claim to be the number one cycling city in the country.   It’s astounding how bike-friendly the city is with paths going through parks as well as through downtown with a series of underpasses.  Of course, it isn’t as bike friendly in January than it is in July, but still the cycling infrastructure is really impressive.   On our city ride, we saw famous Minehaha Falls, and viewed the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi is a very large milestone in our cross-country journey, because we have now entered the eastern US.That night, we had dinner with the Talle branch of Doug’s family – a completely lovely bunch of folks.

Doug left on Thursday, July 20. We enjoyed his company, his good nature, his encyclopedic knowledge of two states, and the way he welcomed us into his Rapid City and Minneapolis families.  We miss him.

While in Minneapolis, we had a wonderful lunch with our good San Francisco friends, Darla and Richard, who by coincidence were just wrapping up a two-week Midwest trip.  We love serendipitous occasions like this.  We followed lunch with a walk on the University of Minnesota campus to the Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, and including a rare sculptural piece by Gehry himself.

After saying goodbye to Richard and Darla, we visited the Walker Art Museum, with its eclectic collection and vibrant museum programming.

Heading east from Minneapolis on July 21, our destination was New Richmond, Wisconsin.  Of course, we were able to ride on rail-trails for many of the miles.  Our route took us through the great town of Stillwater, MN, situated on the banks of the St. Croix River, which divides Minnesota from Wisconsin.  Lucky for us, we arrived in Stillwater during its annual Lumberjack Days.  We watched a contest in lumberjack skills – buck sawing, axe throwing, chain sawing, log running, etc.

We saw a downhill derby race of homemade rolling contraptions. We took a cruise in a pontoon boat on the St Croix.  We ate snowcones.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the Lumberjack Days event and crossed into Wisconsin on a “lift bridge” that will be converted to a pedestrian/bike only trail in just one more week.

In just a few miles, it was clear that Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful farmland and farms anywhere.  The farm roads have almost no traffic, and therefore make for great cycling.

The next day, we left our campsite in New Richmond bound for Lake Wissota, just north of Chippewa Falls, a distance of around 76 miles.  Our first stop was the St. Croix County Fair, in Glenwood.  What a delightful fair – livestock competitions, crafts, goat milking.  We are so far removed from rural farm life that we look on events like this as a charming curiosity, rather than a way of life, as it is for people who live in the Glenwoods of this country.

A word about Wisconsin roads:  Traffic is light on nearly all of them, but they may or may not have shoulders.  Still, motorists are as courteous as they have been throughout the trip.  The roads are aligned in a grid pattern, in the Roman style, with no regard to topography.  Turns out that, contrary to my previous belief, not all of the Midwest is flat. So I can gain (and lose) as much elevation on a cycling day (up to 2900 feet) as I did on some days in Wyoming or Idaho.

And yet this is not a high-elevation region.  Yesterday, I hit the dizzying elevation of 1400 feet (compared with 800 feet in Minneapolis).

Rolling into Chippewa Falls, an old boot manufacturing town, I happened on a vintage car event.  Took me right back to my early 1960s Southern California youth.

Cooler weather finally arrived the day we left Lake Wissota for Unity.  We soon came upon a family-run cheese factory, where we sampled and stocked up on a variety of jack cheeses.  We’re now full-fledged Cheese Heads.

The route included mostly farm roads.  I passed a number of Amish people driving horse-drawn buggies, riding bicycles, or walking.  This region seems to have a sizable Amish population, and many of the most orderly farms have buggies parked in the yard.  I know very little about the Amish, but to me they are an interesting study in assimilation – they have held fast to their style of dress (unadorned simplicity) and refusal to use some modern conveniences – and yet seem to be accepted and left to live their lives as they please.  I’m not sure that applies to some of the more recent arrivals into our country.

Yesterday’s ride from Unity to Lake Emily Park in Amherst Junction (76 miles) was a bit of a slog.  Reed asked me in a call a few days ago if the trip was starting to feel like a chore.  Yesterday, though the scenery was lovely, it wasn’t much different from the previous week’s, and I realized I was riding on determination, rather than elation.  This could have been because it was the fourth straight day of hard cycling and the winds were consistently in my face.  Today’s respite has revived me, and I look forward to tomorrow’s long ride to Lake Winnebago and the final leg to Lake Michigan the day after.

 

Wendy writing:

Wow – so much to catch up on! Howard has covered our itinerary well. I will add some of my impressions from these almost two weeks.

In Doland, SD, we loved our conversation with sisters Glenda and Jamie Lynn. Glenda owns a multi-use shop: a flower shop and coffee shop which sells the best homemade gummi-fruit candy; her sister runs a hair salon.

We sat down for coffee and conversation with them. Glenda shared how she is proud of her son who is following his dreams as an aspiring actor in Los Angeles, and how he had encouraged her to follow hers and start her own business. Her husband is a contractor and taxidermist. We asked about Hubert Humphrey – while the town is very proud of being his birthplace, the majority of the town and South Dakota vote Republican. Glenda said that she doesn’t like to think about what’s happening politically, that it makes her too upset. She shared that her family cannot afford health insurance – as South Dakota opted not to extend Medicaid benefits to its residents. We all agreed that health care should be possible for everyone. Talking about the drought, she said that everyone had been praying for rain, but recently some had started praying for hail as the farmers could receive hail damage insurance and put this season behind them.

On the other hand, we are sure hoping for no hail. In addition to crop damage, it sounds like it does very serious damage to homes, cars, and trailers. Please no hail! And while we’re at it, please no tornadoes! It’s a bit unnerving to see the restroom buildings (and other buildings) labeled “storm shelter.”

More Midwest childhood remembrances:

Virtually all of the houses have basements for storm shelters. I remember playing in the backyard in Illinois when the sky would suddenly darken and the wind would become really strong; we would run indoors, open all the windows (so that they wouldn’t explode from a tornado creating a vacuum), and run to a specific corner of the basement (can’t remember which corner now).

Water towers are in each town – to create water pressure in an area that is flat.

Bright red cardinals – and beautiful weeping willow trees!

In Hutchinson, Minnesota:

(later in the trip – in Wisconsin:)

(and later – in Michigan:)

Playgrounds with teeter totters and high swings! It has been so sad to see playgrounds become risk-averse in our litigious society – happily this seems to be reversing in the most recently built playgrounds.

Humidity – which I’ve been surprised that I haven’t minded (unless the temperatures are too high); however, the mosquitoes and no-see-ems that seem to come with humidity are dreadful. They really make it difficult to enjoy a place. It turns out that our wonderful trailer has a big flaw – its sleek accordion screens turn out to have a “leak” at each end of the screen, allowing mosquitoes and their friends to enter the trailer. Two nights ago, I killed 54 mosquitoes in the trailer during the process of decommissioning the windows and switching to air conditioning with the windows closed. I’ve also worked out taping up screening from a hardware store that I cut to size; this worked well last night but is very times consuming to set up. Hopefully the trailer company will have a better long term solution.

My wonderful memories of my family’s 47 years of owning horses in Southern California have been coming up a lot too. We have seen horses through most of the states; I have commented many times, “what a beautiful place to have a horse!” Cycling on/across the rumble strips on the road reminds me so much of sitting on a horse when it does a full body shake. Many of the bike paths that Howard wrote about have a separate parallel path for horses only – so smart to separate the horses from the bike path (sure wish that this would be done elsewhere!)

The paths in Minnesota City had a separate path for pedestrians vs. cyclists – also so smart for both user groups.

We have been surprised to see how brown/mucky the rivers have been with muddy banks – not the inviting California rivers, for sure. Canoes are the boat craft of choice in this part of the country.

After leaving the drier portions of South Dakota, wildflowers have been back again in great profusion. The prairie gardens are particularly beautiful; I found it interesting to learn from Doug that the purple flowers with the drooping petals are echinacea (which is native to South Dakota).

As a mobility specialist, I really pay attention to street names. This part of the country seems to go with very boring street names: X, XX, J, 450, 175, …

Patriotism has been very much in evidence with flagpoles in front of homes and patriotic decorations in yards.

Mailboxes have been fun, reflecting people’s interests.

Not sure that I’d like to be the mail carrier for this mailbox!

More on smells as I cycle (again cycling is so different than driving – it’s so multi-sensory) – lots of livestock smells. The cows and hogs are really odorous – yikes!

And more on wind when cycling – I finally figured out when the prevailing wind is a crosswind coming from the left side that the oncoming trucks in the far lane will create a WALL of wind that almost knocks you over (even on an e-bike; generally winds don’t affect me – if I have a head wind, I can just turn my assist up higher, if needed; head winds vs. tail winds definitely affect how many miles I get on each battery charge).

Political signs are not everywhere, but when present, they do give a feel of the local politics. Here are a couple from the more liberal Minneapolis: 

While it seems to be a common statement that “government is bad” (as we all benefit from government provided services such as roads, schools, police, etc. I just don’t understand this sentiment), I was surprised to see this one, especially in Minneapolis:

If our photos seem a bit repetitive with the countryside photos, it’s because our country is mostly rural – farmlands, ranches, small towns. That has been really striking with our “slow motion” trip across the country. People living in rural areas live a very different life than those us who live it big cities – seems like an obvious observation, but it has been very evident on our trip.  Here in Wisconsin, I have really noticed how many rural homes have their own playground in their yard next to the cornfields. They just don’t have a playground to walk to with their children – or even within a reasonable driving distance. Really large lawns also have become common around homes.

I have also been fascinated by all of the specialized farming equipment that we’ve seen on the roads, in the fields, and for sale.

Just yesterday, I enjoyed talking with Bob – his father was a farmer, he’s been a farmer, his sons are now running the farm while he keeps out of their way still working in the fields. When I asked if I could take a photo, he said “sure – please show people in California how hard we work here in Wisconsin.”

   I was happy to see recycling efforts in recent days. In most areas, it requires people taking recycling to a center (vs. curbside pickup) – but it’s a beginning.

Likewise, it has been great to see renewable energy beginning to take hold – wind turbines and solar panels.

Drivers remain unbelievably courteous – every driver continues to give us a very wide berth when they pass us cycling on the shoulder or outside edge of the driving lane; when the bike paths occasionally cross a road (most of them have an overpass or underpass), drivers will see us approaching the crossing and stop well back from the crosswalk.

I experience this same courtesy when I am driving the van with the trailer; as soon as I put on my turn signal to change lanes, the driver in the next lane will immediately slow down and wave me in. This is behavior California could use a lot more of – something to bring back from the trip!

It has been interesting to see how large most RVs are – funny story from a couple of days ago: when I had returned from cycling, had put my bike in the van, and was changing my clothes in our trailer, I heard a boy say to another child, “look – that lady is in a dog kennel!” We talked about how it was a small trailer, not a kennel. : )

In closing for this blog post, I want to share a favorite cycling day on the state bike path back to the van from Stillwater – when I found myself cycling with through a beautiful forest with gold finches speeding past, cycling with a dragonfly and butterflies going my direction. It was magical…

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