Midwest USA Summary 2014

A flat gravel road in Michigan

September 23, 2015 | Posted in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Places, Wisconsin | By

We continued our USA travels with some visits and riding in the Upper Midwest, primarily my home state Wisconsin. Despite several flats, a broken rack and getting hit by a car (almost all on the same day), it was a wonderful way to really break in the bikes and legs.

Ohio (Jul 15)

Distance cycled:17 mi / 28 km / 112,423 RJP
Elevation gained:174 ft / 53 m
Elevation lost:75 ft / 23 m

We took the train to Toledo and rode up into Michigan. The inner-city neighborhoods had the missing teeth to show for their storied past, but the holdouts had kept up their places and everything looked really nice. We were the probably only white people within miles and we got a lot of quizzical, WTF looks. Luckily there were some nice trails once we hit the burbs, so we didn’t have to dance with krrs.

Michigan (2 nights: Jul 15-17)

Distance cycled:42 mi / 67 km / 269,686 RJP
Elevation gained:282 ft / 86 m
Elevation lost:240 ft / 73 m

This little Ohio/Michigan detour was so we could visit Colleen, a friend we’d made back in Brooklyn. She was living on a farm in, of all places, Brooklyn, Michigan. From the Ohio border we were hammered by such a fierce headwind that we couldn’t even get to Brooklyn and had to be picked up about 20 miles short. We chilled out on the farm and caught a Phish show outside Detroit! The ride to the train station in Jackson was much nicer than the windy hell on the way in.

A flat gravel road in Michigan

You can’t see the wind, but believe me, it’s there!

Indiana (Jul 17) Transit only

Passed through on the train to Chicago.

A huge billboard that says "Stillinnoyed? No Wonder. Indiana. AStateThatWorks.com

Almost as desperate as West Virginia’s, “Open for Business!” It gets points for wit though, and the insolence of trashing your neighbor right on the border bridge.

Illinois (5 nights: Jul 17-22)

Distance cycled:40 mi / 64 km / 257,989 RJP
Elevation gained:0
Elevation lost:0 (Illinois is flat!)

We spent several nights in Chicago visiting friends and going to a three-night run of Phish shows. The miles listed include riding from the place we were staying across town to the shows, changing spots in Chicago, and riding to the Metra train that would take us to Wisconsin.

Phish on stage

Northerly Island

Wisconsin (36 nights: Jul 22-Aug 27)

Distance cycled:436 mi / 701 km / 2,832,030 RJP
Elevation gained:4,994 ft / 1,522 m
Elevation lost:4,712 ft / 1,436 m
Flat tires:2
Times hit by krr:1
Ass kicked by bike:3 times
Broken racks:1

Finally, some real cycling. Metra dropped us off in Kenosha from which we rode to Milwaukee, West Bend, Sheboygan, Wausau and Buckhorn State Park. We also did a bit of riding in and around Madison and visited Lake Superior by krr.

Posing in front of our loaded bikes

A punctual noon departure from Sheboygan

Both flat tires, the broken rack, the krr crash and two bicycle defeats occurred on the same day. That day started out upbeat on a beautiful morning leaving a perfect stealth camping spot. We hadn’t even gotten off the dirt track out of there when Brandy’s front rack broke and rolled down under her tire. I stopped to see what happened and forgot to unclip. Oops! Down I went. I got a flat later in the day and was pushing the bike to change it under a shady tree when some guy sideswiped the bike. He even had a bumper sticker that said, “watch for motorcycles.” Luckily he stopped and took us to his motorcycle shop down the road to assess the damage and fix the flat. He destroyed the huge can of white fuel we’d been carrying around and had wanted to unload anyway and also exploded our toothpaste. That was all. We were very lucky. All these delays caused us to still be riding when night began to descend. We were on an unpaved trail and I saw an outlet to get to the road, but Brandy was ahead. She tried to make a U-turn in the trail and toppled over. Not only was this a bike ass-kicking event, but the torque tore the tube valve and we had to change another flat, this time in a mosquito bog warzone at sunset.

The third ass-kicking event occurred leaving Wausau as Brandy was taking a photo. She was straddling the bike and it went down with the sprocket wending a badass tiger slash on the leg.

Despite the fact that I got hit by a car, Wisconsin drivers have been some of the best we’ve encountered in the US and it is a great state for touring, as I’ve discussed before.

Brandy and bike in front of the Friendship Trail junction.

A forlorn trail junction. We eventually had to bail on the trails to bring up our speed, but I liked the rustic experience.


A pretty farm across a golden wheat field

A typical Wisconsin view


"Welcome to Seymour; Home of the Hamburger"

I bet you never knew.


A lovely farm viewed from across a golden wheat field.

Near my hometown


Bike trail next to huge prairie flowers

A nice trail outside Madison bordered by regenerated prairie

Minnesota; North Dakota; Montana (Aug 27-29) Transit only

We passed through these states on the train to Seattle.

A photo of a crossing and water tower from the train

I’m not sure why, but this photo reminds me just how much I love the train!


Huge sunflower field from the viewing car of the Empire Builder train

Lots of sunflowers in North Dakota


A freight train curls off around a grain elevator on endless plains

This is Montana


A lonely truck paces the train in the vast golden plains

It is endless, and I love it.

Grain elevators on the plains of MT

More of the plains of Montana

More of the plains of Montana

Gleaming tracks trail into the distance under the rising sun from the back of the Empire Builder Amtrak train.

Read More →

From Hawai’i to Wisco

Partying around the bonfire at Pop's Campground

September 23, 2014 | Posted in Michigan, New York City, New York State, Vermont | By

After returning from Hawai’i we had a couple weeks on the east coast to hang out with friends and catch some of the Phish summer tour before leaving NY for good on July 14. We got our first taste of bike touring with a little trip in Vermont and around Saratoga Springs. We caught a ride up to Manchester, VT and immediately ground our way over the Green Mountains to meet up with our friends Austin & Elyza for the Frendly Gathering music festival. We had done very little climbing on previous tours and this one started off with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain right out the gate.

Much needed break after a looong climb.

Much needed break after a looong climb.

Imagine our chagrin when we got to the festival address only to find out that this was where we would get our wristbands and the actual festival was another seven miles, straight up a mountain. Yup, we weren’t having any of that and loaded our bikes up on the old school bus shuttles they provided. No shame, none at all. We would have had to push our bikes up a steep-ass ski slope to where we’d camp, but we met a sweet couple who were asking about our bikes and they insisted on pushing them up for us.

View from the 'Frendly Gathering' camp

View from the ‘Frendly Gathering’ camp

We had a great time hanging out with our friends and listening to some excellent music in this beautiful setting, but before too long it was time to pack up and roll the bikes back down the slope for our next leg. The bus had taken us up quite a bit, so our Sunday out of the festival was a nice 13-mile coast down 1,740 feet to Jamaica State Park.

Easier down than up, bombing the ski slope fully loaded

Easier down than up, bombing the ski slope fully loaded

When we pulled up to pay, Brandy couldn’t get out of her pedals and toppled over right on her knee. She was bleeding all over the place and we were concerned that she might have really hurt her knee, but luckily it felt better the next day when we again tackled the Green Mountains.

Up and over the mountains we went back to Manchester, an expensive conglomeration thriving on the hyper-consumerism of suburbanites spending their life savings at the outlet stores. Really. We met some locals who work in the stores and people spend an INSANE amount of money in these stores. We’re talking a decade worth of clothing spending for me in one spree. Whatever, people can spend their money how they want. I choose to take a mini-retirement and travel the world for a couple years. Others go for a Lexus and a Gucci bag. I think I got the better deal, but who knows. The locals told us about a great spot to free camp just outside of town on a lovely little creek where we could take a dip and watch the lightning bugs winking about. I’ll take it!

Brandy does not like rising early.

Brandy does not like rising early.

The first half of the next day was a perfect ride. We wound down completely empty back roads to Arlington, VT where we got a delicious breakfast and hopped on the perfect highway that took us into NY. It twists through a mountain range, but followed a beautiful river and is mostly flat the entire way despite the great mountain views on both sides. Shoulders are wide, but it didn’t matter because there was hardly any traffic. The river also provides several great opportunities for swimming along the route.

Quiet Vermont riding

Quiet Vermont riding

and a perfect road...

and a perfect road…

The next half was not as nice. It was hotter than hell and humid and we were already getting tired when we got slammed by a steep, sunny hill with tons of traffic whizzing by. Luckily we found another swimming hole a few miles further on, right about where we planned to camp. As brooding storm clouds menaced overhead, we went on a wild goose chase for a place that had been recommended. Luckily a kind jogger offered up her yard and we got into the tent just in time for a massive thunderstorm to tear through.

Our reward for a brutal climb

Our reward for a brutal climb

We had camped only a few miles from town so we casually rolled into Saratoga Springs the next day and on to our first Warmshowers hosts, who turned out to be incredibly cool and made us feel right at home. Our last day of riding before Phish gave us some big hills, but we only had to go 18 miles on back roads to the campground, so it didn’t destroy us.

Our hosts have a beautiful house decorated to the nines.

Our hosts have a beautiful house decorated to the nines.

The long weekend was a whirlwind of Phish shows, partying, friends and the debacle of trying to run the shuttle bus between the campground and venue. After that stressful and tiring weekend we decided to skip the Philly shows we’d planned to hit and chill out in NYC for the week.

Partying around the bonfire at Pop's Campground

Partying around the bonfire at Pop’s Campground

The nice thing about riding up huge hills on one way of a round trip is that you’ll be flying down them the other way. The ride to the Saratoga train station would have been breezy and uneventful, but Brandy got bitten really hard on the ass by some jerky bug. Ha! The last train of the day was sold out, so we grabbed a six-pack of Dogfish Head and set up camp in the forest next to the station.

Rustic lodging at the Amtrak station

Rustic lodging at the Amtrak station

After a week saying goodbye to friends and another weekend of shows, we hopped on a train to Toledo and finally left NYC for good.

Visiting some friends in NYC

Visiting some friends in NYC

Fatty Bandito cat

We had intended to ride from Toledo up to the farm where our friend Colleen was living, but we were annihilated by insane headwinds and she had to pick us up a few miles short of our goal. I discovered that I despise headwinds. They tear into your soul as they buffet you and push you back. There is no downhill to reward you for your effort, just endless grinding with dust blowing in your face. You slowly lose your sanity and are driven closer and closer to fury each time the wind subsides slowly so you don’t notice, and then blasts you with a gust to remind you that you are nothing but an insignificant spec daring to challenge its great power.

Getting spanked by headwinds in flat southern Michigan

Getting spanked by headwinds in flat southern Michigan

A short and lovely visit later and we were back on the bikes and good ol’ Amtrak to wrap up our Phish summer tour in Chicago from which we would jump off to a month riding around Wisconsin.

There's a cool but sketchy treehouse on the farm property.

There’s a cool but sketchy treehouse on the farm property.

And a nice lake for an afternoon dip.

And a nice lake for an afternoon dip.

Before long we were back on the bikes to the Amtrak station in Jackson, MI. No headwinds this time.

Before long we were back on the bikes to the Amtrak station in Jackson, MI. No headwinds this time.

Loaded miles: 220.4
Loaded feet climbed: 7,884
Loaded feet descended: 7,280

Unloaded miles: 28.9
Unloaded feet climbed: 518
Unloaded feet descended: 518

New counties bagged: 11

One last nighttime ride over the Brooklyn Bridge

One last nighttime ride over the Brooklyn Bridge

Read More →