Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Ride

Saturday morning, we set out from Portage, Wisconsin to Columbus by a very indirect route taking us south along the Wisconsin River to Merrimac, where a free ferry ride carries traffic across.

The ride down the river brought us past ditches full of Queen Anne's Lace, Bee Balm, and chicory in full bloom, with black swallowtail butterflies sipping nectar.

We just missed one ferry trip and had a 15-minute wait for the next one. This photo shows the two linked Anura trikes and the trailer. After encountering a couple of skittish riding-stable horses a couple days ago, we decided that they might have called our rig "Tiger-Snake," so that's what we've named it.

We had carefully mapped out a route up from the river valley, but somehow our GPS had the rejected rather than the chosen path loaded. On Highway 60, we climbed for about 4 miles on a busy road with no real shoulder, about as steeply as we could keep old Tiger-Snake crawling. The route leveled out some after that, but it was still heavily traveled, and we finally sat down with Google maps and the Wisconsin Bike Federation paper maps and selected a quieter alternative that brought us into Columbus on rural roads.

Columbus, Wisconsin

We arrived in Columbus after a total of 330 miles, including a real killer hill up from the free ferry boat at Merrimac. The organized ride that we are joining here will be 367 miles, looping up to Lake Michigan. Many of the riders are camping, as seen here. Others are sleeping inside schools and community buildings. We are staying in motels.

This third of our tour is supported, so we don't have to carry all of our own equipment.

When we get an internet connection, we will add some more information on the interesting things we have seen along the way.

Post-trip edit:

We had a short riding day on Friday, July 30, starting in Reedsburg and riding just 27.1 miles to Portage, but spending two or three hours at the International Crane Foundation. We took the Cranes of the World tour, then rode off down the road, where we saw large numbers of wild sandhill cranes in the fields. Google had given us bicycling directions along a levee road that was lined with summer flowers and flat as a pancake. It was a relaxing day, with lots of good bird-watching.

On Saturday, we had a choice of a direct route to Columbus, where the SAGBRAW ride was starting, or a ride down the Wisconsin River to Merrimac to take the free ferry ride across the river. That ride is described in the next post, while the photo above shows what we saw at the end of the day, as we arrived in Columbus to join the SAGBRAW group.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

What a night!

We arrived after dark last night and were disappointed to find no record of our reservation at the motel. We had a confirmation email, and eventually the nice lady at the desk figured out that someone in the system had put us down as having a reservation for the day we made it rather than now. The motel was nearly empty so we were able to get a room.

All night, the fire alarm kept beeping. Dale couldn't sleep at all, but he didn't want to wake me up. Then the alarm went off for real just before five. We rushed to the desk, but there was nobody there. We reached over to the counter and picked up the phone to call the motel staff, but it just rang unanswered on the next phone. A spacious lobby has never looked so empty. Finally, we dialed 911. The police and fire department came and were able to turn off the alarm, but not to make it stop beeping. we were given a different room for the remaining hour of the night. As we settled back down, the alarm in the new room beeped at us.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bugs, tunnels, and owls.

We were almost entirely on the four trails today. From Onalaska to Lacrosse, we rode the remainder of the Great River Trail. Lacrosse is linked to Sparta by the Lacrosse River Trail. It's mostly flat and lightly traveled. So lightly that one boy, riding toward us beside a friend, never looked to see if there might be an oncoming trike tandem on a collision course. We had to scream at him to get back on his side. Less trouble were the countless goldfinches in perfect summer plumage. They were quick to fly into the bushes. Summer flowers in yellow, purple and white colored the prairie sections, and groves of trees provided welcome shade. The riding surface was so slow that we stopped a couple times to check for flat tires. When we reached the Elroy-Sparta trail, with its smoother surface and no center stripe of weeds, our speed picked up. We tried wearing one eye patch as we approached the tunnels. It was strange to be able to see inside with the dark-adapted eye but to be almost blind with the eye that had been exposed to the bright sun outside. On the last trail, the 400 (named for a train that used to make the trip from St. Paul to Chicago. in 400 minutes ) we were glad to be wearing anti-bug hats. The deerflies kept pace with us, even at more than 10 MPH. Last year they made us miserable, but the hats prevented almost al the bites. We were running late coming into Reedsburg. The rabbits were out on the trail, and in the trees the great horned owls were watching them. We saw two great horned owls and one smaller owl.

We arrived in Reedsburg after dark -- but anyone who knows our bikes would not wonder whether we would be visible. we had enough lights that people who saw us turned around and followed us to ask about the rig.

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Minor editing to fix an "auto-correct" from the Droid smart phone that turned a horned owl into a "hotbed" owl.  I also realized that I edited the previous post to cover much of the same information that we managed to upload from the Droid phone during a very disrupted night in which we had to change rooms because of a faulty fire alarm system;  I'm just leaving the posts as they are and hope that the duplication won't trouble anyone.

Elroy-Sparta trail

Mosquitoes were thick and traffic is light on the trail. (Just a few folks who hadn't been on a bike in a few years.) We wore mosquito. hats and left the helmets off.

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We set out from Onalaska on the third day of the tour, quickly reaching the end of the Great River Trail and taking a bridge over some railroad tracks to the Lacrosse River Trail, heading up the river toward Sparta. We traded our helmets for ExOfficio Insect Shield Cape Hats. The risks of falling off a trike seemed smaller than the risks of going crazy from deerflies. We had previously determined that you can't escape deerflies at less than 14.7 miles per hour, and it's hard to maintain that speed while pulling a fully-loaded trailer on a limestone trail.

The trails weren't as safe as we thought, though. As we left Lacrosse, two young cyclists coming from the other direction were so engrossed in their conversation that one of them nearly ran head-on into us.

We passed another trike -- a guy from Lacrosse with a very old and heavy-looking trike that is no longer being manufactured. We had seen him last year, too.

The Lacrosse River Trail links the Great River Trail to the Elroy-Sparta Trail, which then connects to the "400" Trail, for a total distance of 101 miles. Together, they are supported by the Bike4Trails group and by Wisconsin's trail-use fee. On the Elroy-Sparta trail, the crushed limestone surface is well-worn and smooth, but the trails on either end have some grass and weeds in the center stripe, a particularly slow arrangement for trikes with trailers.

We were running behind schedule as we reached Sparta, Wisconsin, but we found time to talk with a cross-country cyclist, Tom Wild, riding from California to New York. He was blogging on CrazyGuyOnABike and was kind enough to snap a picture of us and give us a link to his blog before we hurried off.

We had gotten the American flag jerseys for a Fourth of July parade in which we decorated four trikes and rode them in a train. They are recumbent-specific, with pockets on the sides rather than the back, and they evoke friendly responses along the road. Mt. Borah is the manufacturer, and they were being sold by Hostel Shoppe.

The trail out of Sparta climbs steadily to the famous three railroad tunnels. We knew from our previous experience that you can close one eye for the last mile before the tunnel and be able to see better when you get into the dark tunnel, but that it is hard to do. This year, we had bought eye patches, knowing that we would certainly want to ride through the tunnels rather than walk. With a two-wheeler, it's hard to stay upright without visual cues, but the only problem with the trikes is running into the ditches along the edges or coming upon unlit hikers.

We had plenty of lights on the trikes, including headlights, blinky taillights, and downlow glow neon tubes, but we used only a few of them, since we didn't want to dazzle the oncoming traffic, and we didn't want to spend much precious time turning lights on and off.

Patching one eye proved highly effective, but the weirdness of seeing very well with one eye and scarcely at all with the other bothered Dale. It was also a bit odd to ride with just one eye as we neared the tunnels.

Riding on a weekday, as we did, was probably a lot better than the weekend. Even on a Thursday, the Elroy-Sparta section was crowded with riders who looked as if they hadn't been on a bike for twenty years. They stopped in the middle of the path, wove back and forth, and wobbled. We love to see people out on bikes, but we would have preferred that they practice a couple times in the parking lot first.

In Wilton, we rushed to Gina's Pies are Square shop -- and it wasn't there. Our smart phones quickly informed us that Gina had sold out and moved on to other adventures. We had a decent late lunch and left the crowded center section of the Elroy-Sparta trail, passing through the remaining tunnel and speeding down to the quieter "400" trail to Reedsburg.

On the "400," we acquired a name for our rig. Two saddle horses that appeared to have come from a local riding stable eyed us with much suspicion as we stopped the trikes, stood up, took off our helmets, and spoke softly to them. They tapped their hooves and shook their heads, looking as if they had urgent business back at the barn. I don't think the riders realized how risky it is to take a horse past something it hasn't ever seen before. These two seemed to be saying, "hey, buddy, that sure looks like a tiger-snake to me, let's run for it!" They settled down and sniffed my hand, apparently deciding that Tiger-Snake wasn't so bad after all. We waited until they were safely past, then stepped up the speed.

Deerflies and mosquitoes were thick as the sun began to set on the last section of the trail to Reedsburg. We had reservations at the Voyageur Inn, which did have a restaurant with feeders for the numerous black squirrels in the area, but was otherwise the least satisfactory motel of our trip. (The motel also hosts a large collection of Norman Rockwell magazine covers and some other prints and artworks.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Flats and Mis-routing

Rolling the trikes down the hall from the hotel room this morning, I noticed an odd thumping. My left rear tire had a split casing and a bulge. Fortunately we had spare tires. After a short delay, we were on our way out of Lake City.

Half of the day's ride way on busy Highway 61. No problems there. We crossed into Wisconsin , where Google sent us down a dead end and later a one-way path, the wrong way. We couldn't understand why we were pedaling so hard and going so slowly. Then I noticed a flat tire on my right rear. It still held some air, so we pumped it up a few times on the way to the hotel. Then Dale's right rear flatted, too. (In retrospect -- after the ride -- we are suspicious of the narrow shoulders on the road. They often have rough edges up to the main pavement and down to the wider gravel shoulder, with occasional potholes and gaps in the surface. Some tires seem to hold up better than others under those conditions.

We finished our 80 miles and spent the evening patching leaks.

The second day's ride ended in Onalaska, just north of Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

Google responded quickly to an error report about the routing. We think they had been notified of a planned trail and just put it in before it was actually available on the ground.

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Morning repairs

I'm coming back to this smart phone posting to add some explanation: we had come in to Lake City from an 80-mile ride on Tuesday, July 27. In the morning, as I wheeled my trike down the hall in the motel, I noticed that one tire was uneven. It had developed a bulge in the casing and appeared to have gotten some cuts in the tread. We did ride on some bad surfaces our first day out.

We tipped the back trike up to the side to change the tire. Fortunately, we had brought spare tires with us -- two of them, since they also serve as padding for the front wheel when it rides in the trailer.

We were back on the road in short order and headed down the Minnesota side of the river to Winona. From Winona, we crossed into Wisconsin and (after a brief detour down a road that existed only on Google maps and perhaps in some long-range plan for a bike path) began the bike trail part of our tour. The four great rails-to-trails routes in southwestern Wisconsin provide a car-free way to go down the Mississippi to Lacrosse, then across the state as far as Reedsburg. The surface is crushed limestone, which is best where it is heavily traveled. In the less-used areas, the center stripe remains grassy; that's hard for trikes, because it forces one wheel to run on grass.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bald Eagle

This bald eagle flew up as we walked to supper by Lake Pepin.

Dale got this photo before it flew. My initial attempt to post a photo on the blog came out sideways, and it wasn't until we got home that I could access all the editing features to turn the picture upright.

At the motel in Lake City, we met two cyclists riding upriver from New Orleans. They commented on the friendliness of Minnesota and Wisconsin drivers, compared to the south. The weather had looked bad in Minneapolis, so they were staying overnight in Lake City and hoping for clearer skies in the morning. We gave them a set of the free bike maps for Minneapolis and St. Paul and wished them a good journey up to the Mississippi headwaters at Lake Itasca.

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From Drop Box

I remember coming to Lake Pepin in the late 1960's when bald eagles were just starting to recover from DDT. Now, they are everywhere.


We are about forty miles into the ride. Stopped at a grocery store in Hastings for lunch. We have been lucky with the weather. There was rain in front of us and behind but just light overcast where we were.

Additional note: we were halfway through our first day's ride at this point, stopping for lunch at a large grocery store with picnic tables in front, and trying out our ability to post blog entries from a smart phone.

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starting out

Luke Breen from Calhoun Cycle came by our house on his bike around 6:30 on Tuesday morning, July 27, 2010, and snapped this picture of us as we set out for our 1000-mile bike tour of Wisconsin. Part of the fun of this tour has been setting up to blog it as we go, so I immediately posted the photo via "Blogger Droid." Text entry is slow, though, and even in the back seat I needed to do some navigating, so I'm coming back later and modifying the blog entries. The two Greenspeed Anura trikes are linked together, making a 5-wheel "pentacycle," with a modified Burley trailer on the back, carrying an Igloo cooler.

The electronics for the trip include a GPS from Garmin (the 60Cx), with a bike mount for each of the trikes, Droid smart phones, wired and wireless communicators (the radio version has to be recharged after 4 hours; the wired one doesn't allow as much freedom of movement, but lasts several days on a single set of batteries), and a laptop computer.

The heavy items are mostly tools, spare tires and tubes, and a change of shoes for each of us. We tried to cut back drastically on clothing, but there is always a chance of rain, and we can't count on being able to do laundry very often.

The first day was an 80-mile ride down along the Mississippi River to Lake City. We used Google's bike-mapping service, with the maps loaded to both and to "My Maps," where we could access them from the Droid phones. Each route map was also downloaded to the GPS, and there were daily cue sheets with all the turns indicated.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Testing, testing ...

A four-and-a-half mile trip home from the grocery store was today's test run for the trailer. The Igloo cooler weighs 22 pounds, and with 83 pounds of groceries it was quite a bit heavier than our planned load for the trip. Handling was still pretty good, but hauling all that weight uphill made for slow going. I didn't let the trike get up to full speed on the descents, and I took the corners at low speed.

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