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.

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10 Reasons to Cycle Wisconsin

Clouds over Lake Superior in Wisconsin

January 7, 2015 | Posted in Places, Wisconsin | By

As we take a break from riding here in Hermosillo, Mexico, I want to give a shout out to my home state, Wisconsin. We made our first tour here on some crappy rental bikes in 2012, and spent about a month on this trip cycling around the state. Wisconsin is a terrific place for bicycle touring, especially for taking a first tour. Here are ten reasons why:

1.     Taverns

Almost every little town has at least one small hometown tavern. Taverns in Wisconsin are a special breed of bar with a special feeling I cannot describe that I have rarely seen outside of the Upper Midwest. Almost every tavern will at least have New Glarus Spotted Cow on tap. It is a somewhat basic beer, but still very solid. Most taverns will also have food, and often it is the place to go for dinner for miles around.

Wisconsin tavern

If you want to do a bit of gambling, you can play the video poker, or try your hand at the shake of the day. Every bar has one, and each one is different, although they all include tossing a shaker full of dice with the possibility of winning free beer or the pot, which is just the accumulated cash from people shaking. Usually you must get some variation of a full house or multiples of a single number within a certain number of rolls. Some allow ‘farming’, others do not. Farming is where you get to set aside dice from one roll to the next. You are always only allowed one play per person per day.

Wisconsin tavern

The crusty old tavern is a great place to refuel and chat with some friendly locals.

Indoor area of Memorial Union in Madison, WI

During the off time at one of my favorite places, Memorial Union in Madison. Not your typical crusty tavern.

2.     Lakes

Wind surfers on Lake Mendota in Madison, WI

Lake Mendota in Madison

Wisconsin has over 15,000 lakes. Some may be nothing much more than a muddy leach-filled puddle, but many are not only beautiful, but are great for a cool dip on a hot afternoon. If you’re carrying a pole, you can also fish your anus out.

Clouds over Lake Superior in Wisconsin

The grandammy of of Wisconsin lakes, Lake Superior.

3.     Dense network of low-volume paved roads

The state is gridded with an abundance of great county highways and local roads with very little traffic. Even where traffic does pick up you will often find a nice paved shoulder. Many of the county highways are also well-graded, despite the lower volumes.

An empty road in the bicycle mirror

Note the heavy traffic

4.    Commitment to bicycling

The state of Wisconsin has been pushing bicycling and other active uses with public policy and infrastructure improvements. The state has a long history of trail development for snowmobiling and ATV use, and has naturally expanded into bicycling and walking. As a result there is now a huge network of off-road trails available to bicycles throughout the state. Many miles are unpaved, but there are also a surprising amount of paved miles, even in the middle of the Northwoods. Municipalities have also gotten onboard by developing bicycling improvements to make access to population centers much more pleasant than in other places.

A bike repair station on a trail outside Wausau, WI

A bike repair station on a trail outside Wausau

5.     These friggin’ maps

Holy crow! This really could be an extension of the previous point, but these county bicycling maps are such a boon to the bicycle tourist that I think they deserve their own point. The state provides printable color maps in PDF for every county in the entire state. They accurately portray the desirability of each county and state highway based on traffic volumes and shoulder availability. If anything, I have found that they seem to overestimate what is ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ volume. The only shortcoming is that they gloss over urban areas, but many urban areas have their own bicycle maps.

I used these maps exclusively because they are the perfect scale and show just about every road. I really can’t say enough how awesome they are. I just can’t believe more states don’t do this!

Riding out of Wisconsin Rapids on a great paved trail with our Warm Showers host

Riding out of Wisconsin Rapids on a great paved trail with our Warm Showers host

6.     Rural balance

Outside of the bustling Milwaukee area and the empty far Northwoods, most of the state is rural enough to get away from the traffic and provide plenty of camping spots, but populated enough that you usually will not have trouble finding supplies.

Sun filtering through trees at our stealth camping spot

Yet another great camping spot a few miles from a cheap diner breakfast!

7.     Mild summers

Unlike much of the country, Wisconsin summers aren’t an onslaught of eyeball melting heat. Warm days and cool nights make riding a breeze instead of a slogging sweatfest. Highs are generally in the 70s and low 80s without the insane humidity you find on the east coast and South.

Hammocks hanging in a misty forest

A misty morning camping at Buckhorn State Park. It was warm enough for the hammocks without drowning in a pool of sweat.

8.     Topography

Wisconsin is great for riding, especially for a first tour because the gently rolling terrain will give your legs a break without mind-numbing flatness. There are some pancake flat spots and there are some quad busting death grades, but much of the state is dominated by gently rolling hills.

Brandy on a rolling road in Wisconsin

Some gentle rollers from our first Wisco trip

9.     Courteous drivers

Of all the places I have cycled (mostly on the east coast), I have not yet encountered more courteous drivers than in Wisconsin. People seem to go out of the way to give you space. If there is oncoming traffic, they will usually slow down behind you until it is safe for them to completely enter the other lane. When they need to pass closely, they usually slow way down. The times where some knob blazed by uncomfortably close at speed became the great exception as opposed to the vast majority as on the east coast. Oncoming traffic even edges away from you onto their shoulder.

It should be noted that I did get hit by a car in Wisconsin, but that just goes to show that you need to be careful wherever you ride. Also, I was on a busy highway with an uncomfortably narrow shoulder.

Maine drivers were previously my top pick. They are still pretty awesome.

10. Friendly people

The Midwest is known for the friendly folks, and Wisco is no different. People will smile and chat and make you feel at home.

Fully dressed up in cheesehead and other garb

We’re friendly folk, unless you interrupt important cheese-related business.

Sunset over the Wisconsin River

I think I’ll start ending every post with a sunset photo, just because…

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