Before I begin I’ll ask the Wisconson and Minnesota residents to forgive me for including them both in the same blog post. Its not that I don’t think each deserves a separate story but rather their stories blend nicely together, in my opinion at least.
I left off, a few blogs back, having disembarked the SS Badger at Manitowoc. Coffee and food not far from the ferry port set me up well for the remainder of the day. And it was a day well worth remembering for a number of reasons.
So, I’ll showcase the best photos from that day and move on:
My Warmshowers host that night had himself only recently returned from cycling the ACA Northern Tier route. Bob Moczynski and his nephew had a 3 week window to ride from the start point on the Oregon West coast to his home at Mishicot, outside of Two Rivers near Manitowoc. They did it by following the maps to the letter and riding 100-150 miles daily! Not like my tour which includes numerous photo stops, coffee breaks, chats with the locals and other time consuming activities, such as taking wrong turns or generally lazing around and enjoying myself. I admired their commitment and also picked up plenty of useful tips, but I couldn’t ride like that day after day to save my life.
Bob was a great host. His wife Mary cooked up some wonderful food for evening meal with the two daughters and boyfriends and set me up well in the morning for my next day on the road. A foggy one too:
Oh dear! That one day in Wisconsin served up a few surprises and enough for one blog. I think we’ll move on to another post don’t you?
From the moment I set foot in the USA this summer I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and sincerity of nearly all the American people I’ve met as my journey has progressed. I say nearly all because there was one incident which helped make up my mind about travelling through Chicago and one of its neighbors, a place called Garry. Let’s just say it cost me $10 and I’m still here to tell the tale, and it’s the reason I chose to cycle up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, meet more wonderful American people and I don’t regret that one little bit.
Today I finally arrived at the famous Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in Dalbo, Minnesota. I’d first read about it on the Adventure Cycling Association website whilst researching routes etc. for this trip and I made absolutely sure that my routes brought me here. I’m not disappointed; in fact I am truly in awe of what the owner of the property, Donn Olson, has done for the benefit of touring cyclists. I’m sure there are many other equally generous people around the world but when you are the recipient of this generosity yourself you cannot help that awesome feeling towards the giver.
So far I’ve cycled the length of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, crossed into Rhode Island, returned to Massachusetts, climbed over the Adirondack range and then pedalled through New York State, plunged into Lake Ontario to cool off, stared in awe at the power of Niagara Falls, enjoyed Canada on the north shores of Lake Erie, dipped my toes into the US political scene in Ohio and also acquainted myself with a Volagi owner, bypassed Chicago but witnessed a far nicer side of Lake Michigan, and met so many wonderful and genuinely welcoming American people. How can it get any better? Well, Wisconsin has just tried its best shot for the number one spot. Geez man, when will this all end???
Look at these dogs:
I’ve met so many great dogs on this trip.
I wonder how this little fella is doing with his summer hosts:
It didn’t take long to realise that I was headed in the best direction. Country roads through fields of fat, ripened blueberries, all ready for picking; farm shops selling tons of delicious looking fruit & veg; delightfully well tended lawns & gardens; and the occasional glimpse of the third Great Lake on my trip.
South Haven was a destination highly recommended to me and it did not fail to disappoint. It was like the best of English fishing ports with a lovely marina, sandy shoreline and plenty of local shops and quality cafés. Here’s a sample:
Yes, Lake Michigan on the east shore is building up to something special – I could write a song and dance about it, and so I tried:
Fun over, and Michigan highways once more in view I found myself on the way to Holland through lush tree-lined lakeside roads.
I eventually reach the home of my Warmshowers hosts Susanne and Bob Jordan. It is a brand new house on a condominium and the driveways were being completed the very time I was there. This meant heavy machinery spreading piles of asphalt on the evening shift and we watched from the safety of the garage as the work took place:
I was then treated to a guided tour of Downtown Holland by my hosts. And what a great place Holland is, clearly a thriving town and my hosts pointed out many things that are helping make the town a success.
I took a couple of days break at this point. To be fair, my hosts suggested it and for that advice I am grateful. You see, my problem is that I try to keep going, moving on to the next place, wherever that may be, not always listening to what my body is telling me. Good advice from people who clearly know. Anyway, a day off doing not a lot but I did sample Downtown Holland, the local craft brewery and some street entertainment:
The next day, refreshed and reinvigorated, I set off towards Hoffmaster State Park in the hope of a campsite, forgetting it was a Friday and holiday season; of course, it was full!!! Fortunately, the park rangers took me by the hand and found a pitch on a site far better than all those already taken.
Saturday: Full of anticipation because I’m heading to Ludington and an encounter with the infamous SS Badger which sails from Ludington. It’s a long ride which takes me through Muskegon and along one of the best cycle trails I have yet encountered, the Montague Hart Cycle trail, about 25-30 miles of newly laid asphalt – beautiful for cycling on, and a rather hairy looking roller coaster along the way:
I have arranged a camp in the back yard of a Warmshowers host in Ludington who will not actually be at home. Not a problem he says and it turns out to be just so. I pitch the tent, scrub myself off with the hose pipe and feeling clean as a whistle head off to the highly recommended Jamesport Brewing Co Bar for dinner and a few of the local brews. If you’re ever in the area, look it up cos you won’t be disappointed.
Sunday: there she is in all her splendour, the SS Badger:
She’s ready to sail to the west coast of Lake Michigan and another US state, Wisconson.
Once in Wisconsin, Manitowoc and the neighbouring town of Two Rivers doesn’t disappoint, but you’ll have to wait for my tale about that.😊
Now, where was I? Oh, yes I left off an earlier blog with mention of an upcoming election, sheep, wet tar, Chicago and Holland. I’ll begin with the sheep and election.
Having been met off the ferry from Leamington at Sandusky terminal by my Warmshowers host Gordon Hille, I was promptly led across the road to a cool bar for beer and lunch. Introduced to the barman as a Brit cycling across the USA I was greeted with a “Welcome to Ohio” (Oh Hi Ohh in a rich baritone voice) and warm handshake. Lunch finished with, I was then whisked across the city to the opening of the local Democrat Party election office, introduced to a number of supporters and primed for the arrival of the local Senator. Needless to say, he was running late (should I have been surprised?) so we left.
Gordon it seems has two loves. One is his sheep. He has 4 in the back garden at his home in Elmore, Ohio. Here they are:
He is also a seriously committed Democrat and conversation inevitably slipped in and out of politics but not without a heavy slant towards our own decision in the UK for Brexit. An exceedingly worrying one for just about all the Americans I have met so far and always one of the first subjects I get quizzed on.
Politics dominated the evening and the Republican convention was being shown live on tv. So, to my surprise,we listened and watched the man who would be President promise Americans that he would fix it for them, whatever was broke he would fix and that he was the man to do it. At this point Gordon suggested we go outside and watch the stars in the night sky. I said we’d just seen one on the telly….that didn’t go down too well did it🙄
And so I moved further west to meet a most delightful couple who live in a really beautiful house in lovely village called Whitehouse, Ohio. Nancy is a proud Volagi bike owner and the first I have met whilst touring in the USA. Her bike’s really cool 😍 and she’s even spoken to Robert Choi, boss at Volagi 😉
Husband Mark offered to give my bike a thorough clean. Just as well cos he discovered a broken spoke, the second of my tour. So, Nancy drops me off to the local bike shop to fix the wheel. All done, we return home, replace the wheel and discuss an early Saturday morning start to set me on my way west again.
The next day we set off for a lovely early ride and was great meeting Nancy and Mark’s cycling crew for coffee, but not before they helped me fix a puncture. Here we all are outside the coffee shop:
This was actually the hottest day of the tour, in excess of 95f and later in the day I found myself riding on melted tarmac and picked up a few too many loose chippings:
I did manage to scrape them off the next morning once the tar had cooled, but it was a messy affair and I did wonder if the tyres might need changing completely. As it happens, they’re fine two weeks on.
And so my ride continued west through Ohio and Amish country. The changed scenery was quite profound, not just because of the delightful Amish farms, horses and carts but also the rather more lush landscape and rolling hills. I enjoyed this part of the route and also an encounter with an Amish chap and his five children dressed in their Sunday best on their way to a family gathering. He was very interested and quite excited by the journey I was on; the children looked on awestruck.
I eventually reached my destination for the night in the town of Angola. Pitched the tent in the Warmshowers hosts garden and settled in for the night.
Sunday’s ride started a little wet but gradually improved. It was still warm and the sun eventually made an appearance. I checked the tyres and scraped off the tar which had cooled and hardened a little; thankfully all was fine and we encountered no more wet tar.
As I headed west to Goshen I noticed the landscape changing to a more familiar one of hedgerows, rolling hills and cows in the fields:
I soon found myself passing through the delightfully named Shipshewanna and directed by Google maps onto the Pumpkinvine Trail. This was a joy to ride – a smooth paved surface, Amish families enjoying a group ride, lovely views and a pretty garden layout at Middlebury, not far from my nights stop in Goshen. Here I met another cyclist, Ed Miller, and enjoyed a chat centred around cycling. Ed is typical of so many people I have met on the tour who have shown a genuine warmth towards me and a great interest in where I am headed and why I am doing it; thanks Ed.
My host in Goshen was a lady called Kimber. She had only signed up as a Warmshowers host that Sunday morning and I was her first guest. She leads an interesting life: half the year she works in Antarctica as part of the support crew for the scientific teams; the remainder is spent in Goshen. She has a beautiful garden full of flowers and fruit of all kinds and ensured I was well fed with home grown produce; it was delicious.
South Bend was my next city destination. This is a university city and sits on the St Joseph River which winds its way through to Lake Michigan.
That thought increases my anticipation at seeing the third Great Lake of my tour and starts me thinking about the direction I wish to take – do I go left and up the western shoreline of the lake or do I take the east shore route? Chicago is the problem if I go west (and a place called Garry – the locals don’t like Garry and make it plain I should avoid it).
A night stop with Veronica and Martin Lebbin helps me decide. Especially the view from their house:
Their son Lucas is on his own ambitious US cycling tour and it was great to hear his parents speak proudly of what he was doing. I learnt the lie of the land as it were and thought more about my options before a good nights sleep.
A chance encounter with a former TransAmerica Race cyclist the next day made up my mind and I took his advice to “Head north on the east coast of the lake and take the SS Badger” – Head north is a phrase I heard again later from a charming lady a few days later. A detailed route plan handed to me, off I set in the general direction of Holland…. Yep, that confused me too 🤔
It seems that my touring setup is attracting a great deal of attention, so I’m not afraid to showcase it a few more times am I?
All credit to Volagi for a truly great bicycle frame; the Bike Shed Barnstaple (especially Richard Tate and Paul Belton) that I even have the bike in the first place; Extra Wheel for the totally unique and brilliantly simple single wheel design.