St. Paul to Chicago, Day 6: Racine to the Mag Mile

Short report is that it was a beautiful day for a ride straight south into the city. Most of the way was on a series of trails including the long Robert McClory trail.

I rode through the posh suburbs north of here, Lake Forest, Winnetka, and right by/through Ravinia. The recorded announcements at the train stations all mentioned special arrangements related to Lollapalooza.

I stopped in Evanston near the Northwestern campus for lunch and connected to the Lakefront Trail about 2:00 and looked longingly at the many beaches. I tried to get to one but heavy bikes in sand just don’t work.

I pulled into the hotel a little after 3:00 and was welcomed by two lovely Irish girls who were working here for the summer.

We have a nice room from which we can see the lake. And I’m cleaned up and waiting for Lisa to arrive.

I have to thank the states of Wisconsin and Illinois for developing all these trails that so many people use. I was especially impressed today by so many people and dogs out for walks and bike rides.

Lisa is here and I’m signing out. Thanks for following!

St. Paul to Chicago, Day 5: Lake Mills to Lake Michigan

I woke early again, loaded up the bike and crossed I-90 for the umpteenth time, heading back to the Glacial Drumlin Trail. (A drumlin, by the way is a landform left by a glacier. Now you don’t need to look it up.)

I rode into the rising sun and it was cool enough to wear a long sleeved layer. The trail is a tunnel in the forest – through deep, green woods, and so silent. I rode due east and saw no other person for over twenty miles, without a single turn.

Had a bite to eat and coffee at Mama D’s in Wales and chatted with other bikers. About 14 miles west of Waukesha, the trail became paved, a sign that I was entering a more urban landscape, and which also began slanting down to the lake.

I was thinking about the BoDeans, the pride of Waukesha! And, then, I crossed a road called Les Paul Parkway – he was from here, too. My brain, such as it is, began playing “Fly Me To The Moon” on repeat for quite a while.

I went from a lonely, green tunnel into a sunny exurban landscape, angling southeast through western Milwaukee County, along the Root River, most of the streets wide and with little traffic. As I got closer to town, the route got increasingly busy and, finally, I was jostling with traffic on Douglas Ave heading towards the waterfront.

I was very happy to check into a beautiful room on this penultimate evening of my trip, after an 86 mile day. After cleaning up, I used the hotel computer to figure out how I will make my way south into the Mag Mile tomorrow afternoon. Lake Michigan will be on my left all day, happily.

Lisa will be taking the train to Union Station tomorrow, a much more civilized way to travel long distances. I can’t wait to see her.

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St. Paul to Chicago, Day 4: Baraboo to Lake Mills

I rode early this morning, wanting, again, to get a head start. Also, the casino was creeping me out. They didn’t have much in the way of breakfast – actually, nothing. I guess gamblers don’t get up early. I saw one old guy sleeping in a chair in the fancy lobby.

I rolled over to the big BP, got water and planned on a suitable breakfast later. Rode back into Baraboo for the second time and started looking for my route. I was using a suggestion from the Official Biking Guide published by TravelWisconsin.com (did Scott Walker privatize tourism here?)

The map didn’t seem to be made for real navigation, and I wandered around Baraboo a little looking for the roads. The direction was south, to Devil’s Lake, which is beautiful but, gee whiz, there are some big hills around it. You really feel the load you’re carrying on the climbs.

I circled around the south side of the lake and cycled into the little town of Merrimac, caught the free ferry across the Wisconsin River and headed towards Loki, where I was going to begin my trip around Madison to the Glacial Drumlin Trail, heading east out of Cottage Grove. I made one wrong turn, adding about 8 miles to my day, and reminding me that it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you are going in the wrong direction, something leadership trainers tell us, but which I can now illustrate.

On the whole, my planned route was a good one, east on the north side of Dane County, then south on the east side. I never entered Madison. I saw some stuff, a crop duster doing acrobatics and cranes in a field…and many trucks and potholes.

I made one more small navigational mistake but got to the trailhead at about 1:30. I had sixteen miles ahead of me on the trail, which runs from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. Sixteen miles is nothing, especially when you can’t get lost…

I’d considered camping tonight at Azatlan State Park, just east of Lake Mills. So, here are few words about that.

Are you familiar with the poem “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon? It is one of my favorites and it is about how happiness comes to us at surprising times. In it is this line:

“…happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.”

I have always wanted to be that guy – and I don’t mean metaphorically – the man who brings you happiness – I really wanted to actually be that guy who travels around in a single engine plane, or an old MG or jeep, sleeping bag in the back seat, just seeing America and having experiences. It is very romantic, eh?

But here’s the thing – after eight hours in the saddle, I kind of just want to clean up and sleep on a bed. There may be a picturesque romance connected what I’m doing, but it is hard work and mentally challenging – especially this trip.

Last year, Lisa and I had really detailed maps telling us how to get to New Orleans, turn by turn details. On this trip I had/have an idea of my route, but there are some gaps that are in the category of “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” Worrying about those gaps has made sleeping a little tricky – that, and I miss Lisa.

I didn’t finalize today’s route till about 5:00 PM last night in the business center of the Ho Chunk. I’ll be working on tomorrow’s in a bit.

So, the Glacial Drumlin Trail is the best of the five I’ve ridden so far, smooth, clean, dry – almost like it is paved. I will get back on it tomorrow and ride to Waukesha where I start angling southeast towards Racine. I hope to see Lake Michigan at the end of the day and maybe even wade in it on my tired legs. And will then retire to my hotel room.

St. Paul to Chicago, Day 3: West Salem to Baraboo

This day started so well! I had to say goodbye for a few days to Lisa, but I was on the La Crosse River trail a few minutes after 7:00 and blasted. I was 15 miles down the trail in one hour, in Sparta. I started thinking “I’m going to have an early day!” I was planning on about 90.

The Sparta/Elroy trail (32 miles) is the first rails to trails in the nation, so they say. I’ve heard about it for decades. My ride on it began fine, then it started to climb, gently but relentlessly. My 15mph went away. It was weird – it didn’t look like a hill, but I guess that’s the way the trains did hills.

It was a pretty rough surface, wet and a little slick. But I hammered away it it. So, I’d heard of the three tunnels – my brother rode this last year – and, about 7 or 8 miles in, there was the first – about 3/4 of a mile long.

It was so freaky! Pitch black, you can’t see one end from the other, so much water dripping from the top, it seemed like it was raining. You must walk your bike through – with all your lights on. It seemed like it took forever.

Then, about 30 miles in, at Wilton, I see a hard closure: the trail was closed due to weather damage. I thought about riding forward anyway, but what if it really was impassable – and how far would I have to ride back?

I decide to google map a detour to Elroy for driving (25 minutes by car) and then just followed it out into the country, up and down steep hills through Amish country. I met and waved at several buggies, and when I was a little confused, flagged one down to ask for directions. The guy driving the horse seemed to not know of Elroy, which was about 10 – 15 miles away. He screwed up his eyes and thought, but really had no idea. Meanwhile, two little boys in the buggy stared at me with huge eyes.

I did get back into Elroy, about an hour after I’d hoped to. Got a chicken sandwich at the bar where the owner was watching “Petticoat Junction” in B&W. The sandwich was good.

I was now to take the “400” Trail to Reedsburg and then only had 15 miles to Baraboo, where we’d booked a room – more on that in a bit. A few miles down the trail, another closure. This time, being in the 70 mile range already, I decided to chance it and rode on. I did have to walk a little bit but wasn’t too bad.

At Reedsburg, I got directions for Baraboo but didn’t really look at the hotel address – I was under the impression it was in town, so I headed there.

So, Lisa had booked me a room at the Ho Chunk casino hotel. The only other time in my long life that I’ve been in a casino was a year ago on our bike trip, on a riverboat in Marquette, Iowa. But this place had laundry and a restaurant and I just said, ok!

It turns out, the casino is not in town, where I headed, assuming I’d find it. It is actually north of town, probably to attract Dells tourists. I added about ten miles riding into town and back again.

Casinos are another planet for me. This one, both a tribute to the Ho Chunk nation, and a huge attraction for 70 year old couples who smoke and play video games, as far as I can tell.

I’m off to bed – more adventures tomorrow. I’m half way through this trip.

I wish I had more pics, but I was kind of busy today.

St. Paul to Chicago, Day 2: Pepin to West Salem, WI

We actually slept really well last night. I slept better in the tent than I had in my own bed the night before. Woke up rested and ready to go. I packed up and was on the road by 8:00, with a little over 50 miles to ride to Trempealeau, where we would meet for lunch. Lisa packed up the campsite in Pepin, walked with her hiking poles for an hour along the lake and then drove on down WI 35, which (I repeat myself) is beautiful.

In my effort to stop and smell the roses, I got a shot of sunflowers and the fence made out of old skis and a big catfish.

There are more cute towns in this side of the river- Alma, Fountain City, a town called Bluff Siding (truth, it is a town, I guess, but not a cute one.)

Lisa caught up with me in Fountain City as it began to rain. It poured for a while, and there were about a half dozen places where bridges were being repaired and only one lane, so southbound traffic (and vice versa) had to wait, in the rain, for opposing traffic to get across. As is often the case, no problem if you are in a car.

I made it to Trempealeau by noon and we had a really nice lunch at the hotel. They have had live music there for years, and there is a wall of photos of people who have played the room ranging from Charlie Daniels to Richie Havens and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Must return.

At Trempealeau, I got on the first of a week of Wisconsin bike trails: the Great River Trail, the La Crosse River Trail, the Sparta Elroy Trail, and, east of Madison, the Glacial Drumlin Trail. They are unpaved but relatively hard packed and smooth, a little wild, very flat. I prefer riding on a hard surface but these are safe, and, did I mention, flat – they are old RR routes.

I arrived in West Salem a couple hours after lunch. We’d planned to camp again, but the forecast for tonight isn’t favorable for a good camping experience (thunderstorms and maybe tornadoes.) If you’ve been a follower of Confluence, you know that Dan and Lisa can be flexible. We found a room in the West Salem Americinn where I can dry out, make plans for tomorrow and get a good strong start on what will be a 90 mile day, ending in Baraboo, home of the Circus Museum. (I won’t be going, because I am single minded about getting to Chicago. Janelle Monae, dude.)

I have to say that I REALLY miss having Lisa riding with me. And LOVE having her meet me at my destination. I will miss her terribly the next few days.

St. Paul to Chicago, Day 1

My friend Tom Kunau, a very fine cyclist, much more experienced than I (and fresh back from Colorado’s Triple Bypass ride – look it up, it is crazy) launched me this morning by joining me at our house and leading me to Prescott through South St. Paul and Woodbury, I guess, though I have to refer to my computer’s map to be sure. It was a great and fast start and very nice to have a companion, at least, for a while.

Actually, Tom may have saved my bootie in the first half mile – south of the monument on Mississippi River Boulevard. He was riding behind me and noticed that one of my bags was coming off. We stopped and I realized that the attachment that Thule uses – which is perhaps a little too clever – had lost a tiny screw which meant the whole bag would fall off. Had that happened a day later, it could have been disastrous. As it was, I called Lisa, who brought another bag and we switched them out. I also checked the same screws on my other bag and found one missing. I cannibalized the bad bag and all was good. As we worked, runners and friends came by and we chatted.

Today’s was a sweet ride – the Wisconsin side of the river (Prescott is where the St. Croix and the Mississippi converge – it is a confluence) is by some accounts the more scenic side. I can verify that and add that it is also the hillier side. From Prescott south for nearly twenty miles, there were no towns, many steep hills and a lot of hot sun. I’ll include an image of the elevation and temp.

I stopped at a bar in Bay City for a beef sandwich and a Bud Light and lots of water. I realized how depleted I was and actually got a little light headed. I only had twenty miles to go and knew there were a couple of cute towns ahead, Maiden Rock and Stockholm. I stopped two times just to relax, take more fluids and look at the lake, which was beautiful and full of all kinds of boats.

Also, I was passed by approximately 27,500 very loud motorcycles.

I beat Lisa to Pepin, set up the tent and then welcomed her and we caught up on our days. We were surprised to learn that there was a wine and cheese tasting at the campground with live music, which was lovely, and we met many dogs and their people riding around the Pepin Campground on golf carts.

Dinner was at the Harborview, one of the area’s most renowned restaurants and it was delicious. We had a long wait for a table which we spent wandering along the harbor, looking at sailboats. And now we are sated, and tired! And heading back to our site.

Biking to Chicago, solo

On the morning of Saturday, July 27, I’ll be leaving for Chicago on a trip that we’ve planned for some months.  We expected to be riding this trip together, but Lisa’s hip issues culminated a month ago with a total replacement on her left side.  She is recovering well, and is now walking with her hiking poles and spending time on a stationary cycle on a daily basis.  Sadly, her doctors prohibited her from riding a bike outside for three months.  Even more sadly, she is coping with the fact that she will probably never run again.  On the other hand, she is living without pain, sleeping well again, and looks tan and healthy after spending a couple of weeks recovering in the backyard sun.

I pondered just cancelling the bike trip, which was timed to get us to Grant Park in time for the Lollapalooza Music Festival.  We thought about driving down, or taking the train down.  While riding through Missouri a month ago, though, it occurred to me that I could still do the trip and have Lisa meet me in Chicago.  We have decided to do that.

This will be a little outside my comfort zone – riding solo, working out the route on my own, navigating through Madison, Waukesha, Racine, and that endless commercial industrial megalopolis between Milwaukee and Chicago. Thankfully, Wisconsin has a great system of bike trails, and I think that much of my ride will be on them, making it a little safer.  And remember that chart showing a circle labelled “your comfort zone” and outside that, another circle labelled “where the magic happens”?  Also, my bike has lovely new salmon colored brake pads which make me happy.

And there is this: Lisa will be joining me (by car) at my first and second campsites: Pepin, Wisconsin, and West Salem, Wisconsin. Then she’ll return home and work through Wednesday, and take the train to Chicago on Thursday.

My route: St. Paul to Pepin, Pepin to West Salem, West Salem to Baraboo, Baraboo to Lake Mills, Lake Mills to Racine, and finally, Racine down the shore into downtown Chicago, to check in at the Aloft Mag Mile, where Lisa will be waiting for me (unless I get there first!)

On Friday, Tame Impala, Janelle Monae, Maggie Rogers, and a hundred bands we’ve never heard of. Our friend Mike recommends The Nude Party, and I’m all up for that.

I/we will try to post daily.