Feeds:
Posts
Comments

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I didn’t write anything yesterday, once again because  I was busy enjoying the company of a friend until I was too sleepy to keep my eyelids open.

I began the morning with a simple breakfast while hiding from mosquitoes in my tent. I left Shiocton at a usual time. I headed south on pleasant country roads while tuning into Wisconsin Public Radio for some variety. The discussion at first focused on whether Governor Scott Walker should be recalled, for which the guests were a representative think-tanky liberal and a heartless reptile of a Republican ex-Senator. Then there was lighter talk about the worst ideas of all time, which put me in a better mood and kept me entertained.

In Hortonville, I picked up the Wiowash Trail, a rail-trail through a woodsy corridor between cornfields and marshes. Wisconsin invented the rail-trail, but didn’t bother advancing with the rest of the country when most states paved theirs. Almost all of the rail-trails in the state are still covered with crushed limestone, which is a slower ride than pavement and dirties your bike up. The Wiowash even had a grassy center strip, but at least some rain the previous night kept the dust down. The trail was also shady and pleasant and the most direct route to Oshkosh. I had no need to hurry.

I stopped for my first break in Oshkosh on the UW campus beside the Fox River. Then I continued south on U.S. 45, which stayed near the shore of Lake Winnebago, though the view was blocked for most of the way by houses with large yards. The traffic on this stretch was light.

I stopped in downtown Fond du Lac to call my friend Lucas and let him know my ETA. It was early enough that I decided not to eat lunch until I got to his house.

What should have been an easy five miles out to the house ended up taking over an hour of confusion and frustration. First I hit every red light in Fond du Lac. Then I found that U.S. 151 had been recently upgraded to a controlled-access highway and no longer intersected roads that were on my bike map. I illegally rode the shoulder to the first exit, a county highway that didn’t exist on my map, and tried to figure how to get from there to the country road I needed to be on. Exasperated, I finally called Lucas again and argued over directions for ten minutes, ultimately figuring out how to get there without much further difficulty.

Under Lucas’s East German flag, I pulled into the driveway, parked my bike in the garage, and took in my stuff. After a shower, we went out for lunch at a Greek place in town. We spent the afternoon watching the documentary The War At Home, about Vietnam War protests in Madison, and grilling brats over a backyard campfire.

After a good night’s rest, I said my goodbyes to Lucas and his family and hit the road for Beaver Dam. Most of the trip was on the Wild Goose State Trail, another rail-trail that took me past Horicon Marsh. This huge national wildlife refuge is the largest wetlands complex in Wisconsin, a beautiful mix of open marsh and tallgrass prairie that hosts millions of migratory birds representing well over 100 species. I got off the trail to ride the three-mile auto tour loop at the north end of the marsh, and I hiked a 3/4-mile boardwalk trail. Hundreds of swallows darted around me as I walked, and yellowlegs, white herons, green herons, and great blue herons stalked the marshes for edible morsels or stood like statues in the water. The place was fabulous.

Riding on through the sun-dappled woods, I contemplated my plan for the afternoon. I would drive to Madison, take care of errands related to moving in, then go out to meet my parents at lake Kegonsa State Park and camp with them for the evening.

My plans for a smooth homecoming would soon be shattered. I arrived back at my car at noon. There it sat, in Lot 48 of the trailer court, just as I had left it–or so I thought at first.

The first inkling of a problem was that it wouldn’t start. No problem, I had expected this. I asked the residents of Lot 48, Vanessa and Jeff, for a jump, and it started right up. Then I tried driving off. The back-left wheel wouldn’t move. It was locked, the brake seized up. With Jeff’s help, I jacked it up, and we took off the wheel and finally got the brake to pop out. Then it wouldn’t start again and had to be jumped; it appeared I would need an entirely new battery.

Before I tried driving again, luckily, Jeff noticed a rattle, examined the engine, and pointed out a bolt that had come out of a belt pulley (which later turned out to be the balancer). I shut it off again and jacked the car up, this time on the front-right side, and spent half an hour sweating and swearing, slowly cranking the bolt back in with my wrench. Then we jumped the car again, and the bolt came right back out!

At this point, I decided it was time to call for a tow. Jeff took me into town to a body shop, and the guy there called the local tow truck driver for me. Half an hour later, a flatbed showed up at the trailer court to haul my car into town. The mechanic’s diagnosis was not good. About $800 of not good. The alternator and the AC compressor are seized up; I needed to replace the alternator and balancer, not to mention the battery, to even drive it again.

What can be done. Shit happens. I should have asked Vanessa to run the car for a while every few days to keep things from rusting. But I didn’t, and now I am to suffer the consequence of built-up entropy on a complicated machine created by imperfect man.

I feel frustrated and defeated at the end of my journey. At least my parents are on their way to pick me up, so plans for the weekend can go forward without my car. I also have a good surplus in the bank right now, although I fear it will drain away fast as the school year begins and I live without a paycheck until October.

That’s life. Living on the road is cheap and easy in some ways, hard in others. Coming home is expensive and has its own balance of plusses and negatives. Life goes on. The journey never really ends, it just winds around and changes scenery, like a road through the woods and prairies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I titled this entry for lack of the ability to come up with a better name and because I just cooked and ate my last camping dinner on the road. I’m staying in a little town park in the village of Shiocton, which has swingsets, bathrooms, and grills, but no picnic tables. I easily found enough firewood to roast corn and boil pasta over the grill, and used up almost all of the dry dinner food I had left.

After a beautiful sunrise, it was another warm, sunny day–downright hot in the afternoon. After leaving the Jesse Lake campsite, I rode south along highway 55. About ten miles down, I entered the Menominee Indian Reservation, one of my new favorite places in Wisconsin.

This reservation is so big it is also its own county, a rectangular block of almost uninterrupted forest surrounded on all sides by corn fields. The road through it was beautiful and tunnel-lake under a dense canopy, and stuck closely to the picturesque Wolf River. Rafting outfitters were common along the way, as were slow vehicle turnouts with parking areas beside the river. I’d say this is one of the prettiest stretches of road in Wisconsin, and I very much enjoyed the ride.

I stopped for a break at Kashena Falls, near the south end of the reservation. This cascade of the Wolf River over a four-foot or so ledge is a sacred place to the Menominee, according to a roadside interpretive sign. It used to be the upper limit of the sturgeon spawning run. There are still sturgeon in the Wolf River, but now the river is dammed ten miles downstream at Shawano, so the ancient fish can only make it up that far. White people just can’t seem to leave rivers the way they naturally belong.

Back on the bike, I cruised through the reservation seat of Kashena and rode a trafficky eight-mile stretch to Shawano, arriving in town at 10:45. I made some phone calls and used the library for an hour, then found a city park a few blocks away to eat lunch in.

The temperature had climbed into the upper 80s, and a stiff south wind made the afternoon’s 28 miles to Shiocton tough. At least the road was interesting as it wound its way through classic Wisconsin pastoral country. I made it to my destination around 3:45 and found a tidy local cafe with ice cream (in Wisconsin, it’s a given that any town with 500 or more people will have an ice cream place). I drank a delicious chocolate malt, which cooled me down considerably.

After enjoying my treat, I backtracked half a mile to the little town park that allows camping. A dirt track led from the road down through swampy bottomland to the river at a nice sandy spot. There were already two guys there fishing, and they were catching quite a lot–northern pike, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and even a walleye. I quickly changed and jumped in for a swim. It felt fantastic to wash off two days’ worth of accumulated grime. I relaxed for a while on the shady river bank before going back to set up camp.

Tomorrow’s ride to Lucas’s house in Fond du Lac is a very manageable 54 miles. I am going to try riding the Wiowash State Trail to Oshkosh and U.S. 45 along Lake Winnebago. There are plenty of alternate routes if I need them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today was a long day. Not bad, just long.

I cooked eggs for breakfast and got out of Buffalo Lake Campground at 7:40. I rode south on County E and east on County D past many a lake and woodsy resort. I kept going through the hamlet of Sugar Camp and ten more miles on County A to Three Lakes, where I took my first real break. The sky was fair with scattered clouds and the wind was light.

Three Lakes was a charming little Wisconsin resort-area town. I found the local library and borrowed their notebook computer for a few hours to catch up on all the internet business I needed to do. I got done around noon, and despite my hearty breakfast I was feeling rather hungry, so I sat on a shady bench outside the library and ate a good sized lunch.

After lunch I felt super-charged riding down highway 32 and County S to highway 55, bypassing Crandon and stopping after 30 miles in Mole Lake. This community is the seat of the Mole Lake Sokaogan Ojibwe. This tribe played a rather heroic role in defeating the Crandon Mine proposal by buying up the mineral rights to the land where the sulfide mine would have been after a 20-year struggle against it. Had the mine been built, it would have poisoned the Wolf River with sulfates, acid and heavy metals, killing off its invaluable wild rice stands and possibly its ancient sturgeon population.

The afternoon had become a warm one. After Mole Lake, the road got hillier, slowing my progress. It was interesting, though, a pleasant mix of forest and pastoral farms, and I entertained myself by taking pictures of the barns I passed. I stopped after ten miles in Pickerel to munch on a wild apple and find a county map with campgrounds on it. The nearest campground was about 14 more miles away, just past Hollister.

The map didn’t make a distinction between public and private campgrounds, so while I thought I was looking for a national forest campground on Sawyer Lake Road, it turned out to be a private bar and RV park. I passed up this establishment and went down a big hill looking for the “real” campground, and finally stopped a mile off the highway to ask a resident of one of the lakefront homes along the lane where it was. He told me that the only developed campground was the RV park, but there were three very pretty primitive campsites maintained by the forest service on Jesse Lake, about a mile further on. The right choice was obvious. I found the dirt track that led to the primitive sites, which turned out to be fantastic. At a parking area, a trail led down to a large site tucked into a beautiful grove of hemlocks right beside the marshy lake, with a metal fire grate, rough-hewn log benches and a “wilderness throne”-style privy. The only downside was that the lake was not swimmable, and it was even hard to filter water from the one-plank dock without getting vegetation in my filter bottle.

I set up camp and cooked dinner on a wide upended cut log. After a hearty meal and clean-up, I went to hang a bear bag from the sturdy limb of a young hemlock about 12 feet off the ground. I got the rope in perfect position on only the second throw, and felt pretty proud of myself until I tried to hoist the packs and realized I hadn’t tied the rope adequately when it slipped off my mini-beaner. I managed to retrieve the end of the rope using a long stick, but I still didn’t have the right kind of knot, so it happened again! This time I had to pull the rope down and start over. Of course, after several unsuccessful throwing attempts, the mini-beaner got hopelessly wrapped in a knot around the limb.

I already lost one good caribeaner. I was bound and determined not to sacrifice my mini-beaner as well. I tried several times to haul myself up the nearly limbless lower trunk, and only ended up scraping myself up in the process. I even tried to screw an eye hook I found lying around the site into the trunk to stand on, which didn’t work. I felt like that guy Bill on the Red Green Show, who is always trying to demonstrate a new way to do things, only to be hopelessly defeated by his own cockamamie schemes. Finally, though, I found a scheme that worked: I made a makeshift ladder by stacking three cut logs of different diameters, flat end to flat end one on top of the other so they were fairly stable, which got me high enough to untie the knot and retrieve the beaner. Having finally learned my lesson not to use a beaner as a throw weight, I tied some sticks on the end of the rope and managed to get it over the limb in a god spot, then hung my bags.

The twilight is long finished and I’m tired. Tomorrow I’ll continue down 55 along the Wolf River to Shawano (pronounced Shawno), then cut south to Shiocton, where I’ll likely camp. It should be a shorter day if I stop there, which would still put me in easy range of Fond du Lac Wednesday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got out of Copper Falls pretty early this morning. The sky was a blanket of low clouds, but they all burned off by the time I made my first stop in Glidden. The rest of the day was sunny bbut cool, with a light southeast breeze that didn’t help but wasn’t too hard on me either.

My bigest challenge and frustration today was, in fact, renewed chafing soreness on my posterior. I think I need to replace my padded undershorts with something else. I have no idea what.

It was 16 miles from Glidden to Park Falls, and I made it there about 10:30. I was already ahead of what I had planned, which was to camp 20 miles east of Park Falls at Fishtrap Campground. Instead I decided to have lunch at Fishtrap and continue on to the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest east of Woodruff. As it turned out, there was no sign on Shady Knoll Road for Fishtrap Campground, so I missed it entirely. I had lunch a couple miles further on at Round Lake Recreation Area.

Round Lake was the site of a restored logging dam, a big wooden sluiceway with gates that can be closed to build up water behind it, then opened to release the water to carry logs downstream. It itsn’t used anymore, but was restored as a museum piece, a relic of an ugly era of boundless greed and careless destruction of the great pine forest. After eating lunch, I hiked the interpretive trail over the dam and along the river, appreciating the loaded blackberry bushes much more than the works of man.

I hit the road for 24 more miles east on highway 70 to Woodruff, where I picked up a few groceries and enjoyed a giant ice cream cone from the local sweets shop. Three miles further east in the state forest, along County Highway J, was Carroll Lake Campground. I would have stayed there, but you had to register at a different campground that would have meant backtracking and getting off my route. So I continued on another few miles to Buffalo Lake Campground, a much prettier spot a bit off the highway where I could register on site.

My first order of business at Buffalo Lake was a swim in the clear water. My campsite came with its own steps down to a narrow, sandy beach. It was the perfect spot. I cooked a hearty dinner, registered with the camp host, then went back to the shore to relax and write. As I was getting ready to head into the tent, my neighbors in the next site over arrived and invited me over to have a beer and relax by their campfire. I took them up on it, and enjoyed a couple more hours of social time.

Tomorrow I’m hoping my butt doesn’t hurt as much and I can get down to the first campground along the Wolf River, a longish ride. This will mean I’ll be able to get to Shawano or somewhere south of there on Tuesday and not have to ride too far on Wednesday to end up in Fond du Lac, giving me more time to spend there with my friend Lucas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I didn’t write anything yesterday, in part because it was a day off from biking, but also because I was too busy enjoying the company of good friends.

I spent yesterday morning helping Xander plaster the outside wall of his house. After a big fajita lunch, Xander, Melissa and I drove out to see the land where Melissa is running a therapy program for children with autism, then down to the White River to swim and collect some of nature’s bounty. We found summer apples that were already sweet, and a plethora of wild blackberries and raspberries to snack on and take home for pancake making. In the evening we had a smelt fry at the house and ate fish tacos with my friends Zach and Christel and their kids Oleana (3) and Mirabel (6 mos.). The day was nicely capped off with music-making in the living room.

This morning (8/13) I used yesterday’s berry harvest and some of my leftover blueberries to make very fruity pancakes. Xander, Melissa and I had been invited out to pick purple raspberries at the home of Bill Hart, whom I met at Thursday’s picnic. We spent an hour or so at the farmer’s market downtown, then drove out just west of town to Bill’s place. His bushes were loaded with big, soft, purple berries. We picked several quarts’ worth, and I filled one of my old Gatorade containers for the road.

We arrived back at the market just as it was closing down. As often happens on that block of Chapple Avenue, I ran into more friends I haven’t seen in quite a while, and we all ended up chatting for at least another hour. Finally, I said my goodbyes and got back on the road heading south.

I only had about 26 miles to ride to get to Copper Falls State Park, and I did them without a stop, arriving at the park at 3:30. The greeter at the entrance station put me in an overflow campsite, which happens to be the nicest site in the park. It’s very roomy, private, and close to the Bad River.

I had plenty of time to swim in the river, get camp set up, and take an afternoon hike. After seeing the familiar waterfalls, I walked a very nice loop trail that I’ve somehow never been on before. I had plenty of firewood at the campsite, so I made dinner over a fire, roasting purple potatoes from the farmers’ market and frying grilled cheese on cranberry walnut bread from the bakery. I am continuing to enjoy the fire’s friendly ambiance as I write.

Tomorrow I will journey south as far as Park Falls, then leave highway 13 behind to head east into the Chequamegon National Forest to camp. It seem strange that my trip is nearing its end, but I am ready for it–ready to be settled a while after a long summer on the road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got out of camp around 7:00 this morning. Leaving my tent set up, I hiked the beach-side boardwalk into the State Park and continued around the beautiful rocky point. Along the way, I stopped to snack on sweet raspberries hanging thick like red lanterns on the bushes. At the park office, I chatted with one old co-worker and the new park supervisor, who had just replaced my old boss when he retired over the winter. He seemed like a nice guy and even offered me a ride down to the campground, but I wanted to keep hiking.

I was ready to ride when I got back to the Town park. I packed up my stuff and headed for the ferry dock. By the time the boat dropped us in Bayfield it was noon, which I decided was late enough to have some lunch. I ate in the community park near the marina and watched a group of kids and their day camp counselor play water balloon games. One of the kids had on a t-shirt from the YMCA in Cincinnati where I attended summer day camp when I was his age and worked as a teenager. Small world.

A few people questioned me about my trip while I was eating lunch. While I always try to be polite, I have to admit it gets old after a while being a curiosity and answering the same set of questions over and over. It occurs to me that people don’t generally walk up to other picnickers who look “normal” and start asking the details of their lives; it would be seen as tactlessly intrusive to do so. But somehow because I am seated next to a touring bike, it’s fine in many people’s minds to interrupt my lunch break to get me to tell them exactly what I am about. Often, I have trouble even answering the questions, because they don’t contain adequate parameters for explaining my multi-faceted summer experience. For example, a common question is, “where are you riding to?” I have to guess what time frame they’re after: today? This summer? My whole live? Give me some context here.

Here are the top ten questions I get asked, and how I often feel like answering them:
1. “Where did you start from?” My mother’s womb.
2. “Where are you going?” To wherever I end up.
3. “How far do you ride in a day?” As far as I need or want to.
4. “How far have you ridden?” Depends on the time frame.
5. “How long have you been riding?” Since 7:30 this morning.
6. Is this your first trip?” No, my parents took me camping as a baby and taught me to ride a bike when I was six.
7. “How do you do it?” Step 1: Put feet on pedals. Step 2: Rotate pedals. Step 3: Repeat.
8. “What do you eat?” Food.
9. “Where do you stay at night?” Usually in my tent.
10. “I couldn’t do that.” You’re right, but only because that’s what you think.

After lunch I decided to ride up the Brownstone Trail, a narrow, fairly smooth dirt path on an old rail grade that allowed me to avoid climbing the big hill to get out of town. This was a pretty, woodsy ride, which dumped me out at Pike’s Bay Marina. From there I continued down 13 past old familiar landmarks–Mt. Ashwabay, home of Big Top Chataqua; Bayview Park and Sioux Beach; Houghton Falls, the garden shop, and Good Thyme Restaurant. In Washburn, I made an obligatory stop at Chequamegon Books and across the street at the Washburn Museum and Culture Center, both of which are housed in beautiful old brownstone buildings. Then I carried on ten more miles to Ashland.

After a brief stop at the Black Cat Coffeehouse, I made my way over to my friend Xander’s house. Nobody was home yet, so I read for half an hour, when Xander got home, followed closely by his partner and my other good friend Melissa.

Tonight there was a picnic at the Bandshell to update people on the status of the proposed Penokee Mine. This would be a 22-mile-long open gash in the earth where now there lies serene forest, beautiful trout streams, waterfalls, and the source of the surface and ground water of the Bad River Watershed, which feeds the Kakagon Slough, Lake Superior’s largest wetland and a huge wild rice production place. It seems mineral and energy companies will stop at nothing to demolish the most sacred, beautiful places for a little more profit.

I followed Melissa down to the picnic early to help set up. I volunteered where I could to get food prepared and schmoozed with a number of good folks who I haven’t seen in a while. The picnic was well attended, and there were great presentations on the mine by Bob Tammen and Al Gedicks, both of whome I have worked extensively with on the issue.

Tomorrow I’ll be sticking around Ashland. I plan to leave after I catch at least some of Saturday morning’s farmer’s market. It’s really nice to be here again, catching up with old friends and visiting good memories. I’ll be in Madison in one week.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like many evenings this summer, I am journaling on a beautiful lake shore as the sun goes down. Tonight, howeer, I am on my favorite beach on the greatest of lakes. I’m back at Big Bay.

I left Jess and Ivan’s this morning before either of them were stirring. In the brightr morning sunshine I rode to Cornucopia, where I stopped in at the Siskiwit Coffee Shop, then ate a late breakfast by the beach. Then I headed up into the Bayfield Hills on Highway 13. I have always wanted to ride this very scenic, hilly, woodsy stretch of road. Wild turkeys and sandhill cranes took flight at my approach.

The most direct route to Tom Glazen’s farm, a two-mile stretch of gravel road, was closed due to a bridge out, so I had to take a longer detour up through the orchard country above Bayfield. Aside from the climb, this was quite a nice ride along low-traffic paved country roads. I made it to North Wind Farm around 11:30 and found Tom in the fruit shed dealing with customers. After they left (apparently to his relief), we shot the breeze for a while, then I went out to the berry patch and picked a pound and a half of the sweetest organic blueberries to be found anywhere.

I lingered for a while, conversing with Tom’s partner Anne and a guy stopping in who I knew vaguely. Then I carefully packed up my squishable fruit and headed toward town. I made a brief stop at Blue Vista Farm, which has very nice flower gardens (and lots of their own berries, but their organic ones are more expensive than Tom’s, and it’s just more commercial).

In town, I stopped in the Bayfield Carnegie Library to use the internet for an hour or so, then got ice cream at the Candy Shop (disappointingly, they no longer put a giant malted milk ball in the bottom of their waffle cones). After wandering around downtown a bit, I headed to the ferry dock and caught the next boat over to Madeline Island.

In the island town of LaPointe, I found Tom Hart, the bike mechanic who sold me my bicycle back in 2004. He still sets up shop on the island once a week during the summer. He recognized me and the bike and was excited to hear about the use I’ve gotten out of it. While we were conversing, a guy on a mountain bike loaded with camping gear rode up to ask about his tire pressure. I wound up asking if he wanted to share a campsite, and we rode up to the Town Park together. His name was Mike.

The Town Park campground was quite full, and we grabbed the last non-electric campsite. After swimming at the beach, I made dinner for two, and we ate and socialized before I went off to do my journal entry for the day.

Being in this peaceful place brings back so many memories. Tomorrow morning I plan to hike the boardwalk over to the state park side of the bay and go around the point, and hopefully run into some old co-workers at the park office. Then it’s a short ride to Ashland for a Bandshell picnic and time with good friends there.