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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.