Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the road to Stevens Point -- Osseo to Stevens Point

Bike route 69585 - powered by Bikemap 

The third leg of our ride to Stevens Point was longer than we might have liked -- over 100 miles -- but the time spent laying out a low-traffic route in the hotel the night before was a good investment. We rode south from busy Highway 10 and followed quiet country roads, watching goldfinches and indigo buntings fly up from the ditches, occasionally spotting some sandhill cranes or wild turkeys, and often enjoying the shade of a roadside tree. The downside of the quiet country roads is that they have very few places to eat. We were glad to find a roadside bar and grill just when we thought we couldn't go any further. (Look on the map for a little detour off the road at the location of the restaurant.) The traffic from Highway 10 came to us, because there was a small bridge out on 10, and a detour brought quite a few large trucks to Highway 73, but we were soon able to leave that road and get back onto the smaller ones.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that this route across Wisconsin, despite the detours and construction, was reasonably safe and not too hilly.

On the road to Stevens Point -- Woodville to Osseo, Wisconsin

Bike route 69509 - powered by Bikemap 

On our second day cycling to Stevens Point, we started from Woodville, Wisconsin and rode to Osseo. The day started on quiet roads. At one point, a bald eagle flew across the road, then hunted back and forth along the road just in front of us for a mile or so. We soon found ourselves on Highway 29, which was being resurfaced. We had to wait to ride past the newly-asphalted section, and we were glad to be able to turn south on the Red Cedar Trail. Wisconsin state trails require a trail pass, which we bought in the visitor center. We ate a picnic lunch along the river, then followed the Chippewa River trail to Highway 10. The highway had a paved shoulder that was wide enough for our trike tandem, but it was both less scenic and less relaxed than the country roads, but it was fast and not as hilly as some of the smaller roads. Since we were riding about 80 miles (130 km), we wanted to avoid difficult terrain. In Osseo, we stayed at the Osseo Inn, where we were given a room on ground floor, so that we could bring the trikes inside. We ate pie at the regionally-famous Norske Nook restaurant and planned our long ride for the next day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Traveling by bike - Europe and the U.S.

I'll come back to mapping our route across Wisconsin, but first a little interruption to write about the differences between cycling in Europe and the U.S. -- or more specifically, cycling in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands versus Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Size: Wisconsin is more than four times the size of the Netherlands and more than twice the size of Austria, and Minnesota is even larger than Wisconsin. Together, Minnesota and Wisconsin are larger than Germany. Population is a different matter: Germany is 82.4 million, the Netherlands 16.5 million, Austria 8.2 million, while Minnesota has about 5 million and Wisconsin about 5.5 million. You have to ride a lot further to get to populated areas and interesting sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin than in Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria.

Routes between cities: except where there are rails-to-trails routes, you are generally on the road in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Only the freeways and a few large highways are forbidden to bikes, but some of the smaller roads are more bike-friendly than others. Wide paved shoulders on many of the roads make cycling with traffic tolerable. The Wisconsin Bike Federation publishes detailed maps with the bike-friendly and bike-unfriendly roads color coded. In the Netherlands and north Germany, intercity routes are on parallel bike trails. In many areas, these are well-labeled and well-maintained. There are some rails-to-trails routes in Germany, and other trails follow old towpaths along the rivers and canals. Austria has the Danube bike route and some other bike paths along rivers and around Neusiedler See, as well as designated bike routes on lightly-traveled roads, but does not have many separate bike trails along the country roads. Where there is a bike path in Germany and the Netherlands, cyclists are generally obligated to ride on it.

Routes within cities: in areas of the Netherlands and northern Germany where bikes are used for transportation, there seems to be an assumption that the rider knows the city. There are directions into town, but once you get there, you often won't find any directions for getting out. Be sure to have good maps and/or a GPS unit. In the U.S. (and in Austria), the edge of town is often car territory, with heavily-traveled streets that have no space for bikes. The green-coded country roads on the bike maps for Wisconsin turn to red around many of the cities, but "urban escape routes" are starting to appear in some areas. Rails-to-trails routes in Minneapolis and St. Paul reach into the center of the cities. City centers in many towns are car-free in these European countries.

Accommodations: the bike-friendly routes through the countryside in Wisconsin require advance planning and packing, because you can ride for dozens of miles without finding any place to eat or sleep. Motels are easiest to find where the small roads intersect the freeways. They generally allow the bikes to be stored in the rooms. Breakfast is usually included with the stay, but it is likely to consist of uninteresting baked goods, coffee, and juice; frequently there is a waffle maker for the guests to use. Internet access is usually free in the small motels across the middle United States, but it doesn't always work. In the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Austria, hotels are much easier to find. Breakfasts are usually generous and tasty. There is likely to be bike parking, often in a secure storage room, but you won't be able to keep the bikes in the bedroom.

Laundry: The biggest barrier to multi-day tours in Austria is the complete lack of coin laundries. You can wash clothes by hand and hang them in special drying rooms in a few bike-friendly hotels, but for the most part you will need quick-drying clothing and some bungee cords to hang them on. Coin laundries still exist in the Netherlands, especially in the large cities. In Wisconsin, we were amazed to find motels with guest laundry facilities -- a large coin-operated washer and dryer; bring lots of quarters!

Monday, August 11, 2008

More about biking Wisconsin

Bike route 65811 - powered by Bikemap 

The first day of our trip to Wisconsin started with the ride from Minneapolis to Stillwater that is seen in the previous post. We stopped for a picnic lunch beside the Stillwater lift bridge, which had just come back into service a couple days earlier. After a long wait for a boat to pass under the bridge, we crossed in slow and heavy traffic. Most of the cars went up the main road, but we took the very steep route up County Road E and then continued quite straight across St. Croix County. After the first big hill, there were a few moderate hills, but nothing really difficult. We would have continued much further east before turning south, but a detour on County Road E led us to change our plans. A small but intense thunderstorm had overtaken us, and we didn't want to explore a detour of unknown length going away from our planned direction of travel, so we changed course. We didn't know where to stay in the little towns north of Interstate 94, but a friendly local cyclist directed us to a pleasant little motel in Woodville, where we could lock the trikes under an overhang directly outside our door. A disadvantage of traveling the quiet country roads in Wisconsin is that there are very few places to eat or sleep along the way. We had packed enough food and drinks, so we didn't go hungry, but we had some worried moments before we located a room for the night.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

We did it!

Bike route 65593 - powered by Bikemap 

We biked from Minneapolis to Stevens Point, Wisconsin! It took us three days, with 67.3 miles the first day, 84 miles the second day, and 105 miles the third day. The map above shows how we got from Minneapolis to the Wisconsin border, mostly on bikeways. It's a lovely, scenic route along the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, across St. Paul on Summit Avenue's bike lane, then out of St. Paul toward Stillwater and the St. Croix River on the Gateway State Trail. The weather was warm and sunny until a thunderstorm overtook us in Wisconsin, and then it remained pleasantly warm during the days and cool at night. We had some problems with unexpected detours along the way. Our prepared maps didn't help much, since we had to re-route completely.

It's wonderful how much more you see of wildlife from a bike. A red fox spotted us from the side of the road and dissolved back into the tall grass. A bald eagle flew along just over us for a mile or so. We saw deer, wild turkeys, and sandhill cranes along the way.

I'll write more about the trip in the next post.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Another Route Option

We've been continuing to explore the routes across Wisconsin, using as well as Wisconsin's own online maps (click the header for a link), which show even the smallest roads, with color-coding to identify the bike-friendly ones. The route in the previous post was quite direct, but it showed up in red as a high-traffic route not suitable for cycling, so we tried a different option. Here's what we came up with:

Bike route 62197 - powered by Bikemap 

It is still pretty hilly, but that may be unavoidable.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Choosing a route

We're planning a bike trip to the Recumbent Rally at the Hostel Shoppe in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Our previous long-distance bike trips have been in Europe, using the splendid bike routes and maps of the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. One reason for not doing multi-day trips near home has been the difficulty of identifying suitable roads and getting information about them.

We're experimenting with a route-mapping system developed in Germany by and building on Google Maps. (Click the header for a link to the site.) It provides detailed topographic information and allows for GPS device imports and exports. Riders can share their route information on the site or draw proposed routes and look at the distances and elevations to see whether the ride will be practical. Here's a route that we are considering (we'll report back on whether it works out):

Bike route 61416 - powered by Bikemap 

We can see already that there are some big climbs and drops; we will try drawing up some other routes and see if anything looks gentler.