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…