Road Trip 2016

When we set out on Expedition 2016 in March, we thought that the planned 4-month, 5000km bicycle adventure would be the ultimate trip for 2016, after which we would settle down and be “normal” retirees, puttering around the house, painting woodwork and shoveling out 50 years of hoarding journals, books, and hobby news.

Well, the grand expedition turned out to be only two months, most of it in a rental car rather than on the bicycle, (600km of cycling taxed our limitations).  We did see most of the planned sites in the U.S., plus a few more, the result of turning west at the Delaware Water Gap instead of continuing into New England and Eastern Canada.  We’ll save those for next year, with a different venue.

So, after arriving home in mid-May, we quickly planned more trips: a camping trip to the beach with cycling; participation in the 30th anniversary NorthWest Tandem Rally in  Klamath Falls, OR, and contemplating signing up again for a Pedal Across Wisconsin bicycle tour, this time of Door County.  We had made a down payment in 2014 for their North Woods tour, but had to cancel because of a training issue that turned out to be cardiac artery disease.  But, after thinking it over, we did something different: we are seasoned self-supported tourists and had, in 2015, gone on a successful car-bike tour of selected trails, which seems to be the preferred mode of touring for us elderly folks.  We also wanted to encourage non-local grandchildren to visit us for a change, so we hatched the plan for Road Trip 2016.

Fuel stop at a one-pump farm co-op in Rudyard, Montana, on the way home.
Fuel stop at a one-pump farm co-op in Rudyard, Montana, on the way home.

First, we made reservations at an available resort 80 km south of Sturgeon Bay, the gateway to Door County, for a week before the PAWs commercial tour (so as to not be inundated on the road with their clients and competing for attractions with 50-75 other riders).  We then convinced our grandson in Madison, Wisconsin that he needed to visit the west coast,  The plan was that he would fly out to Seattle, spend a week or so, then we would drive back to Wisconsin, stopping at tourist attractions along the way.

2016-08-19-16-50-46The plan got underway, with a trip to the Pacific Ocean beach, near where we had camped earlier, so we were familiar with the territory and things to do and see; a visit with his cousins in Olympia, and culminating with a tour of Seattle Center and the iconic Space Needle.  Then, off across the country, oblivious to the fact that we hadn’t done a major road trip with teenagers for over 35 years.

cjroadtrip2016The first few days went well, with stops at Multnomah Falls, a natural ice cave and the Craters of the Moon volcanic monument in Idaho, the Museum of the Rockies (Dinosaurs!) in Bozeman, and Custer Battlefield.  We stayed mostly at motels with indoor pools, giving the young man a few hours to work off the ennui generated from being trapped in the cramped back seat while endless bleakness crawled by and cellular data waxed and waned and then disappeared altogether in the desolation that is northeastern Wyoming.  About then, his computer crashed, a broken display cable.  The adventure became akin to traveling to the space station in a cramped Soyuz capsule following launch in a less-efficient orbital transfer path.  He curled up in the small space and we didn’t hear much the rest of the trip.

2016-08-27-16-27-21A stop at Crazy Horse Monument was of interest–a massive sculpture started in his grandparents’ childhood and which will likely not be finished before he is a very old man.  Mount Rushmore, with four presidents squeezed into a smaller mountaintop, was less impressive, even after dragging his grandparents up the hundreds of stairs to the viewpoint below the faces.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD: 2016 theme: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD: 2016 theme: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

We retaliated by taking a tour of the Corn Palace, where this year’s theme, massive portraits of rock and roll legends from our youth, was realized in mosaics of ears of corn, covering the exterior of the huge auditorium.  We followed up by a walk-through at closing time of Arnold’s Park, a century-old amusement park in northern Iowa where I spent my teen-aged years watching people with money spending theirs on a good time, like riding the rickety wooden roller coaster, which horrified the grandchild raised in a more safety-conscious age.  The roller coaster was still running, held up by new, as yet unpainted, spindly sticks here and there.  Like 60 years ago, we just watched, then moved on.

Across Iowa, we stopped (more of a “drive-by howdy” than a stop) at our daughter’s tiny goat farm on the outskirts of “Brick City,” to be nibbled by the goats and pat the heads of Drake and Moose, the huge house dogs.  Apprehensive at first, our young charge soon felt at home with his newly-found relatives (but not necessarily with the goats). We soon moved on, back to the more familiar Wisconsin and home.

Viewpoint at Inspiration Point in the Arcadia Dunes area on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Shed of our grand-parental responsibilities, we headed for Milwaukee, then followed the lake shore through Chicago and the Indiana dunes,  up the eastern shore through Michigan, along scenic roads we hadn’t ridden on our 2013 bicycle tour.

Mackinac Island 2016 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A return trip to Mackinac Island: this time,we rode the perimeter of the island, in both directions, and explored some of the interior roads. The afternoon crowds brought many amateur bicyclists, creating a bit of a hazard to navigation.

At Mackinaw City, we unlimbered our bug-encrusted bike from the top of the car and spent most of a day touring Mackinac Island, a bit more leisurely and thoroughly than we had time for in ’13.  With a bit more time to sight-see this year, we wandered over to the Painted Cliffs along the south shore of Lake Superior, working our way back east to Sault Ste. Marie.

Castle Rock, on Lake Superior's Painted Cliffs
Castle Rock, on Lake Superior’s Painted Cliffs

In the morning, we watched an ore boat work its way through the locks–through the fence, as the facility didn’t open to visitors until late morning, by which time we were headed south, covering in a few hours what had taken us six days on the bicycle, to spend a week exploring the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan.  On the way, we took a side trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point, where the museum features the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, ore-carrier that sank with all hands in a November 1975 storm.

Mariners Trail from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The first day on the Wisconsin coast, we took the bicycle down the Mariner’s Trail from Two Rivers to Manitowoc, realizing as we came upon the USS Cobia (SS-245), docked in the river next to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, that this is where 28 Gato-class submarines were built in WWII.  Later in the week, we returned by car to tour the well-preserved submarine and the museum.  The next day, we did a recon of Door County,  Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor seemed a good bike route, but the northern end of the peninsula is quite hilly. On the way back, we got buffeted by heavy rain, so were glad we hadn’t chosen to ride this day.

Spaceship 1, the first non-government spacecraft to reach 100km altitude, and which won the X-Prize, 2004.
Spaceship 1, the first non-government spacecraft to reach 100km altitude, and which won the X-Prize, 2004.

Back at the resort, we planned our week around the weather forecast, which was punctuated with thunderstorm activity through the week.  A tour of the submarine and museum in Manitowoc was on the agenda, for a not-so-stormy day, as the submarine tours are cancelled on wet days.  We also took a rainy-day excursion over to Oshkosh to visit the Experimental Aircraft Association museum, which we hadn’t been to in fifteen years or so.  In midweek, the weather cleared over Door County, so we took the noon ferry to Washington Island for a bicycle ride around the island, lunch and the Island Cafe and gelato at the dairy and lavender farm.

Washington Island from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A brief (2-minute) tour of Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin. The island is a quiet, gently rolling oasis a 30-minute ferry ride from the end of WI 42.

Finally, it was time to head for home, with an impromptu stop in Jefferson, Wisconsin for the regional fiber festival, where Judy bought yet another weaving shuttle from the Woolgathers, who made her portable box loom.  We stopped in Middleton to visit our son for a couple of days: the car requested an oil change, so we took advantage of the shop time to ride another trail, this one north along U.S. 12., conveniently near the auto dealer.  Another rainy day, we took a tour of Olbrich Botanical Gardens, between Madison and Monona.

The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI
The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI

As we made our way west, we drove up the Mississippi on the Wisconsin side, to La Crosse, and to Rushford, Minnesota, on the Root River Trail, for an evening bike ride on trail section we missed last year.  The next day, we drove across southern Minnesota, sticking to the county roads that follow the route of the old U.S. 16, avoiding I-90, which didn’t exist when I grew up in the area.  After arriving in the midst of a heavy thunderstorm, we met my aunt and cousin for dinner at the local V.F.W. post.

Return to Root River from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

A return to the Root River Trail in southeastern Minnesota, to ride the Rushford-Peterson segment. This is an evening ride, with the sun low up the valley. At 30 sec, two deer bolt up the trail and into the brush on the right.

Early the next morning, we took the old U.S. 71 north, a route I traveled many times in my youth to visit relatives in central Minnesota. But, this time, our destination was to Judy’s cousin in Devils Lake, North Dakota, so we headed west on I-94, north on I-29, and finally west on U.S. 2,  After our visit, we continued west on U.S. 2 into Montana, leaving the Hi-Line at Browning for a quick tour through Glacier National Park, crossing east to west for the first time, and crossing the park completely for the first time since our bicycle tour in 1988.

Mission Valley, Montana
Mission Valley, Montana

We spent a few days visiting our nephew Rick in Polson–strange to be next door to the  land we had owned for more than 20 years: the tiny cabin we had built now belongs to a young couple who will be building a home in which to raise their family, with the cabin as a base and future guest quarters, as we had once hoped to do.

Lewiston, ID - Clarkston, WA, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.
Lewiston, ID – Clarkston, WA, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, with the old Spiral Highway up Lewiston Hill in the foreground..

A trip up the Bitterroot to see some of our many friends was the last diversion on our long road trip.  Turning westward, we chose to take U.S. 12 across Idaho, a pleasant, slow route with low traffic on a two-lane road.  We stopped in Kamiah, halfway across, a small (~1200 pop.) timber town on the Nez Perce reservation, where there was no cell phone service, making for a quiet, reflective evening, after dinner at a nearby tavern/restaurant/bowling alley.  Our route turned north at Lewiston, ID, then west at Colfax, WA.,  for a pleasant, low-traffic drive to relax us before enduring the rainy Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 and the creeping parking lots of WA 18 and I-5.  We exited the freeway on the outskirts of Olympia, preferring the city traffic to gridlock on the Interstate.

2016-09-23-17-42-23We made it through the city early enough to pick up Delia from Just Cats Hotel, so the family arrived home together after exactly a month away, all glad to be home.  Now we have two weeks to prepare for our next outing, to the apple country on Lake Chelan.

Road Trip 2016 Route — to explore in detail and see photos at the waypoints, click on

Warm Showers 2016, Part 2

This summer, the 40th Anniversary of the Adventure Cycling Association (nee BikeCentennial), has brought a surge of bicycle tourists.  No sooner had we clicked “Publish” on Part 1 of our guest gallery post that we got another round of requests.

Conor and Erin, former Peace Corps volunteers using a bike tour to settle into life back in the U.S. after 2-1/2 years in Tanzania.
Daniela and Christian, from Karlsruhe, Germany.

We had made plans to have our 14-year-old grandson visit us from Wisconsin in mid-August, after which we would drive him home and spend some time bicycling trails and back roads around Wisconsin and Michigan, for a second, gentler tour this year.

So, as of August 1, we put ourselves on the “not available for hosting” list with Warm Showers, having already accepted an advance request for the first week in August.  Another family from Germany, this time with two small adventurers in tow, 15 and 18 months old.  We’ve hosted babies and toddlers every couple of years or so, and the occasional dog who would rather ride bicycles than chase them.  The youngsters readily take to the traveling life, with the bicycle just another piece of furniture in their open-air home.

Stefanie and Ingitha, with their two toddlers in tow (behind Ingitha); Stefanie tows the supply trailer.
Stefanie and Ingitha, with their two toddlers in tow (behind Ingitha); Stefanie tows the supply trailer.
We keep a supply of toys left over from when our grandsons lived with us, to entertain our younger bicycle tourist guests.

Even though we were on the “not available” list, we got one more request, via a referral by an earlier guest. In the age of the Internet, the best way to plan a bicycle tour is to search for the stories of others who have gone before, in blogs, the “Crazy Guy on a Bike” journal, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Angela, corresponding with Nico, whom she had never met, got our name and contact information and called, having arrived in Shelton late in the day with no plans. Angela had met Mira, a Czech cyclist, earlier in the day. Of course, we took them in. Mira had a meeting set up in San Francisco, so forged on ahead after they reached Astoria, but we continue to track Angela on her journey as she overcomes hardships and meets new friends on the road, as we have many other guests over the past five years, now numbering over 150. And, now and then, we succumb to that urge for the open road and adventure at 10-15km/hr and set off on our own quest.

Angela, from Canada and Mira, from the Czech Republic, riding together for a few days on their separate tours.
Angela, from Canada and Mira, from the Czech Republic, riding together for a few days on their separate tours.  Angela was three days into her first long-distance tour, and Mira was finishing the last stage of a tour of the Americas that took him from Argentina to Los Angeles and Alaska to Washington, headed for San Francisco.

As I write this, we are in Wisconsin, having dropped off our grandson near Madison and circled Lake Michigan by car, taking time to ride when we can: a return to Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, riding a shoreline trail on the west shore of Lake Michigan, and riding around Washington Island, at the northern tip of Door County, Wisconsin, covering a bit less than 100km on the bike and over 5000km in the car.  The weather has been variable, with late summer thunderstorms dictating when and where we ride, making us glad we have the car to transport us between scenic trails, and to check out road and terrain conditions before we commit to a ride.