Bike Nielsen 2005

Day One
Milford to Keene in New Hampshire
Start time: 11:40 am
End time: 3:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 47 miles
Total mileage so far: 47 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.09 was the cheapest we saw.
Weather: 93 degrees and 80%+ humidity
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: A turtle and many striped caterpillars crossing the road
You never consider how you are apportioning your stuff in suitcases until one of them doesn’t make it to your destination. We packed some things in the bicycle boxes and then put some things in our panniers and put those in a suitcase. We got the suitcase about 14 hours later than when we landed so we couldn’t really get organized until the airline delivered our suitcase at 9:15 this morning. We did get to visit more with our cousins without any possessions to distract us; but as a result, we didn’t start pedaling today until 11:40 am. Traffic was heavy leaving Milford at midday but thinned out well enough outside of town.
New Hampshire scenery varies from pretty to just about as good as it gets. We were amazed by the picturesque town of Harrisville, which looks like a town really set on preserving its history. The town is built around the mills that line the rapidly descending river that runs through it.
Mill One, Harrisville, New Hampshire
In sweltering heat, we stopped at the history museum in Hancock. Two docents met us at the door and were thrilled to show us their treasures. We wanted to hear about it, and struggled not to melt while they talked. The collection was an eclectic mix that contained Indian artifacts, documents signed by John Hancock, priceless pristine chests of drawers, musical instruments and sundry tools that included muskrat skin stretchers (the town had a bounty on muskrat). Some of the furniture dated from the 1750s. Our visit concluded with a lunch stop recommendation.
We acted on the recommendation of the voluble docent and went to Audrey’s near Marlborough. Audrey’s offered good food but even better local color. Steph, our server, seemed grumpy when we arrived. It was really hot, even for people who worked inside. Steph was transformed when we asked how far it was to Marlborough. She laughed and pointed to the end of their driveway. She told us how Keene is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most jack-o-lanterns lit at the same time during their big Pumpkin festival. “Other towns try to beat us, but they can’t,” says Steph. It took only two conversations on our bike trip before someone mentioned their local claim to fame. Every town worth its charter has something that is greatest or biggest or best. Steph described several attractions in Keene and directed us to lodging for the night. It turned out that we had visited Keene with our cousins on another trip, but we don’t remember it taking six hours to get there.
The adventure is on! Traveling is very different on a bicycle because you move slowly enough to see animals and bugs and flowers by the side of the rode. All day, about once every ten feet, we saw a striped caterpillar on the hot asphalt. Sadly, we orphaned a few striped caterpillar children. It’s amazing that they can walk across that hot asphalt. John says they have a lot of feet and only one has to touch at a time.
Day Two
Keene, New Hampshire to Bennington, Vermont
Start time: 9:15 am
End time: 3:45 pm
Today’s mileage: 60 miles
Total mileage so far: 107 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.01 was the cheapest we saw.
Weather: 88 degrees at the hottest and 80%+ humidity (it is raining now)
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0 still
Animals for the day: Deer and Canadian Geese we didn’t photo because they are probably annoyances around here and we didn’t want to be laughed at.
We pedaled across most of Vermont today. We started in New Hampshire and the border with New York is about five miles down the road from here in Bennington. A few weeks ago, we received an email from Alice in Vermont who said that Route 9 was “hilly”. Alice is a master of the understatement. Hilly to us means 200-foot changes in altitude where you coast down and make it half the way up the next hill without too much pedaling. There was nothing in Vermont that could be called hilly. The word is “mountainous”. We will spare you the adjectives we used throughout the day, and we won’t tell you the exclamation the motel clerk used when she heard what we did today. Let’s just say that you wouldn’t want to drive an old car on this route.
We stopped at a store that offered Maple everything (not uncommon here) to find water for the water bottles. While we purchased a heavenly piece of solidified Maple syrup, John asked if we could fill the bottles from the spigot outside. The proprietor claims to have the best spring water in all the land—“it’s almost sweet”. We appreciated her pride.
Huge hill, Berta at arrow
Several very hot hills later, we looked at the “100 mile view” from near the top of Hogback Mountain. It was pretty scenic, but what we could see were many other peaks in the next 100 miles. At one point, there was a road sign post that clearly originally had two signs on it. The top one was missing, so part way down the post, the second sign said “NEXT 4 MILES”. Berta (Pollyanna) cheered because the top sign obviously had said “7% GRADE” with a downward facing truck on it. The road did descend for about a half mile but then turned up again. We decided the sign must have referred to jumping deer or something else. Later we saw a similar sign that told us something was going to happen for 2000 feet. We scanned the area for that long and didn’t see anything worth commenting on a road sign about it. Boy, there are some cruel souls in the highway department in Vermont.
Food for the day included great sandwiches at Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington. At 1:45, the placed was filled with locals as well as people riding motorcycles from the Americaid motorcycle rally just finishing up in Lake George (New York). There is a sign by the back parking lot that says “Parking for Dot’s Restaurant Only”. Below that, there is a tally of cars (7) that have been towed so far this year. Don’t mess with Dot! John had Canadian Oat Bread on his sandwich to prove his open-mindedness but he is not sure what it tastes like because it was covered with mustard that he added to each bite.
There is a monument here in Bennington that commemorates the Battle of Bennington where Britons General Charles Burgoyne and Colonel Friedrich Baum tried to capture the rebel supplies in Bennington. Faulty intelligence on the part of Burgoyne, underestimating rebel strength, lead to the British defeat. Burgoyne surrendered October 17, 1777.
Lest you think that the cycling day was completely horrible, we did earn a top-notch descent into Bennington. It was a steep downhill for four miles and then less steep for another four. Vermont has state-controlled liquor stores and since it is Sunday, we are 24 hours into not drinking. Walmart and Price Chopper offer everything and food right around the corner, and we are in for the night. There is not a lot of hell-raising on a bike tour.
Day Three
Bennington, Vermont to Amsterdam, New York
Start time: 8:45 am
End time: 5:30 pm Ugh!
Today’s mileage: 78 miles
Total mileage so far: 185 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.01 in Vermont, $2.14 in New York
Weather: Too Hot and Too Humid
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0 still
Animals for the day: A hawk and some goats
Many of the smaller highways in this country follow rivers. We like when the river flows with us, because that generally means the road is downhill. We spent some of the day with rivers, and some of the day against them. Tonight, we are staying on the banks of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam. It is part of the Erie Canal, flowing from West to East in upstate New York. In this area, the river is big. It is punctuated by huge power plants, locks, and sturdy brides.
Berta looks North over the Hudson River in Troy, New York
Most of the day, we pedaled through towns where the mailman drives a private car that has a magnetic sign on the door that says “US MAIL”. Such towns also are home to businesses that each offers a diverse range of services. For instance, we passed a realty-insurance-fax-copies office. Almost every business offers faxes and copies. We’re in area of the country where folks have their name on their mailbox. American flags and support for the military are displayed on homemade signs. Most rural lawns are at least a quarter acre and riding mowers must be required. Lush green vegetation is everywhere and buzzing all around are sangrevorous insects. Standing still is not recommended considering the insect load.
New York has well-marked bike routes that traverse some well-paved roads. Just like Vermont, though, New York has storm drains that have seen probably eight or ten repavings. The grates themselves are okay to ride over, but most of them are four or more inches lower than the street. We motion to each other when one is approaching so we don’t have to swerve. We rode through Albany, a city with a big downtown area that has an interesting mix of very old and very new architecture. Mirrored glass buildings reflect the heavy stones of the city hall.
Traveling on the edge of the roadway, you get to notice what constitutes roadside trash. Most of the trash is alcohol, plastic and fast food containers. The rest is an interesting mix. Bungee cords with only one hook and just hooks are common. Electronic items like exploded cell phones, connecting cords for microphones and ear phones, CD’s. Strips of sheet metal, brackets, rebar, bolts, sparkplugs and even the occasional television. We’ve passed several sets of car keys. One wonders how all this stuff lands where it does. Upon arriving home one spouse asks the other, “Honey have you seen the extra set of car keys?” Spouse replies, “Oh I tossed them out the window driving home.” Probably not but still you have to wonder.
Day Four
Amsterdam to Utica, New York
Start time: 8:15 am
End time: 4:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 64 miles
Total mileage so far: 249 miles
Local Gas Prices: Didn’t see enough to take notice
Weather: It was 81 at 6:15 am according to the bank marquee, although the weather channel says it is 73. It turned out to be cooler and rained some on us.
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0 still
Animals for the day: A fox with a bushy tail, several bunnies (cottontails), chipmunks; and fabulous birds with a lemon yellow breasts and bellies, and black wings. We saw a bird that had a small strip of bright yellow at the end of its tail feathers, but we don’t know if that was the back view of the same species.
In this area of New York, you need to make a pedaling motion with your hands when you say you ride a bike so the listener doesn’t ask if you are on a Harley. Many people who pass us in cars are laughing as they pass. We suppose they have just said “Look at those crazy people!”
We walked for about a mile in Amsterdam this morning, looking for breakfast. Someone told us Amsterdam is a bedroom community for Schenectady and Albany. They weren’t kidding! Bedrooms and nothing else. There is one Best Western in Amsterdam, and we ended up at McDonald’s for gourmet breakfast. The houses are typically more than a hundred years old (some more than two hundred) and in sad disrepair. We saw only scattered evidence that they were occupied.
Considering the penalty we risk by getting lost (having to pedal back), we ask for directions often. Our maps get us from town to town, but do not offer much help when we need to find food or shelter. So we ask. It is shocking how many people cannot direct you to any motel. Some have a different definition of “a nice motel” than we do, but many have no suggestion whatever. Not noticing our clothes—how could they not?—they mention the town we passed an hour ago. We suppose these people haven’t been asked for directions often. But unlike people in other regions, they don’t seem tempted to make things up.
The start of the bike path from Amsterdam parallels the Erie Canal. The canal was proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825. It linked Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east. It was originally 4’ deep 40’ wide and carried boats with 30 tons of freight. A towpath was built along the bank of the canal for horses, mules and oxen to tow the boats. The canal currently is 12’-14’ deep 120’-200’ wide and runs 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo. It has 57 locks and can handle barges carrying up to 3,000 tons.
We were on the Canalway Trail for 32 miles today. Some of the path was paved; some was cinder pack that was just fine to ride on. The bike path, maybe seven feet wide, was often lined by thick trees and underbrush. We avoided some hills on the highway and had a stress-free, quiet ride on the bike path. That would change later in the day, but the bike path was excellent while it lasted.
Berta on the Canalway Trail
We pulled off the path in Canajoharie to get sustenance. We stopped at a Getty gas station for juice and Gatorade. After several minutes, Berta actually had to thrust the bill at the cashier to get her to ring up the items because she was busy on the telephone. As we rode away, we talked about how rude people can be; however, not 500 yards later, we saw that most people are not. John yelled “Photo Op!” and pulled out the camera. Shortly thereafter, we noticed we were standing next to the Tourist Information booth. Barbara was there and another woman appeared from across the street (was she watching for tourists?) to comment on local history. John asked about the building on the hill there, and the two ladies reported that it was built a long time ago, and was used as a school until three years ago. They spoke with vitriol about the guy who bought it and “hasn’t been back since”. They said the street light on a standard in the middle of the intersection was called a “Dummy Light”. It is one of the two Dummy Lights still in use in the United States. We are not positive why it is called a Dummy Light, but we did find the newspaper article from 1926 informing the locals about the light and how to use it (see The article had the following summary of the instructions, with the suggestion that men put the instructions in their hats:
The Dummy Light and the old school building the guy bought
Barbara says men would drive up to the light and look into their hats to figure out what to do. After this and some other good stories, she suggested with enthusiasm that we go down the street to the deli. She said John there would fill our water bottles for us and that he made very good sandwiches. Barbara was right. The lady at Peruzzi’s Meat Market took our order and asked us, laughing, if we wanted our lunches to go. Would you believe that she was the first person to make that joke on this trip? We laughed because we would have cracked that one ourselves. John the owner asked us where we are from and where we are going. He asked us to sign the guestbook for the deli. The sandwiches were great and we told him so. He says he should charge more for his sandwiches, considering the quality of ingredients he buys. The taste proved him right. “There’s no secret to making great sandwiches” he says.
We pulled away, thinking that we choose these people in the deli over the people in the gas station.
It is hard to stray far from describing people we meet while we are consuming the calories needed for a trip like this. We had so much food and drank so much water at Delmonico’s in Utica that we felt obligated to explain that we had pedaled bikes all day. It was trainee day because our server always had an apprentice with her. They must have brought ten pint glasses of water and four diet Cokes for us. They seemed unimpressed by our reason and for our gluttony.
Day Five
Utica to Syracuse, New York
Start time: 7:50 am
End time: 2:30 pm! Time to relax.
Today’s mileage: 62 miles
Total mileage so far: 311 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.19
Weather: 71 degrees, some sprinkles, nice.
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0 still
Animals for the day: bunnies, yellow bellied birds, goats, cows having a town meeting, sea gulls
We have been treated to some spectacular cloud formations. We saw the kind of huge fluffy clouds that beckon you to lie on your back and use your imagination to see what shapes evolve. Berta saw Chewbacca raising his arm as if he were showing off his muscles. I admit I didn’t see the big guy but I saw a lion, an elephant and several guys with big beards. You might have seen different, but you would agree the clouds were magnificent. We also saw dark rain clouds with obvious heavy rain in the distance. One beauty of bicycle touring is that you get to experience the environment.
We rode on a sparkling new bridge made just for the bike path that led to the baseball fields at a high school near the town of Marcy. We marvelled at the expense and effort obvious in the overpass and brand new smooth asphalt. As we climbed a gentle hill near the high school, we heard and then saw a group of six or seven young men standing near the gym. They started to clap. Slowly at first and then accelerating, like they might do at the beginning of a football game, until they were just plain applauding us. It was hard to talk, it was so touching. We waved and relished the support of some young men who might as well have chosen to ignore us.
It seems like in California we get hours of warning before it starts raining. In New York, it just starts to rain and we look up to see if there are clouds overhead. Sometimes there aren’t even clouds around! And the raindrops make you look around to see who threw the water balloon. The rain comes out of nowhere, and by the time you get the rain gear out, it has stopped. We did ride on some very wet roads, but only had the rain jackets on for maybe twenty minutes.
People sell stuff to each other or at least we try. We are home grown entrepreneurs with signs in our yards. Firstly, we sell cars to each other. The car may be parked in the yard with weeds growing around it and the front bumper hanging down. The For Sale (OBO) sign is prominently displayed along with a list of vehicle virtues. We sell car parts to each other, usually wheels or wheels with tires but also axels, rear ends and body parts. If you have a 1967 Lincoln we know where you can get a good deal on a hood. The big two are cars and car parts, but there is quite a diversity of other items we sell each other. Wood for campfires is a big item. Prices vary from $2.50 to $5.00, but what you get for that is not standardized.
One sign indicated the wood was sold for $5.00 per unit. It made us wonder if a unit of wood is a smaller version of a cord. You can tell the average per capita income by the quality of items for sale. Near here, we saw a really nice, well-kept power boat on a trailer that probably would sell for tens of thousands of dollars (if you have to ask…); very soon after that, we saw a beautiful classic Chevrolet. Syracuse has some nice neighborhoods.
Berta on a street in the town of Oneida
Oneida Lake is pronounced Oh-nigh-da. We asked the proprietor at the Lighthouse Station ice cream shop how to say it. He is one of those people who talk for a while, say goodbye, add something else, say goodbye again in another way, add something else, until you just have to pedal away while they are on a goodbye. This guy told us Oneida Lake is quite shallow (47 feet at the deepest) and that local boaters know to get off the lake when the weather looks bad. It can turn in a minute he says. A couple of years ago, this guy was at the ice cream shop when a succession of white vans pulled up, people walked up, and then got back in the van and left. Finally, he asked one of the groups what they were doing. It turns out that his shop was on a scavenger-type hunt for these international tourists. He got a kick out of it.
The ice cream man visits Florida when he can. He says everyone down there thinks that all New Yorkers are from New York City. He says people are not like that here. We didn’t go through New York City, but we can tell you that this area is starting to feel like the Midwest. People are willing to talk, the fields go on for miles, and the sky is big.
Day Six
Syracuse to Newark, New York
Start time: 7:50 am
End time: 3:15 pm
Today’s mileage: 58 miles with our first flat tire
Total mileage so far: 369 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.21 and higher
Weather: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0 still (out of four)
Animals for the day: A very excited baby skunk
Note that we are officially near the Great Lakes now
If you are an amphibian, you would love the day today. There was no chance for your skin to dry out. Despite the weatherman’s assurances that the rain was to the South and East of here, we spent most of the day in rain. You know how when you snow ski, you can get sunburned from the sky as well as from the reflection off the ground? When you ride a bike in the rain, you get drenched from the sky and the road. You also end up looking like the inside of a car tire well.
Early in the ride today, while it was still only damp, we startled a baby skunk who was standing about a foot off our line on the shoulder of the road. His body was less than six inches long and his tail—about the same size—was sticking straight up. He was hopping from one paw to the other, like a kid who needs
to go NOW. All three of us said something like Oh Oh No! We laughed for a half a mile out of relief that we still smelled sweet or at least semisweet. It would have been tragic, considering we were wearing about 35% of our current worldly possessions.
We think we saw Jeff Gordon, the Nascar driver, today. Or maybe it was just some guy who took his 1991 Chevy Cavalier and painted on flames, the number 24, and a rainbow paint job similar to Gordon’s Dupont paint scheme.
We stopped for lunch at the Port Byron Diner. Brigham Young was born in Port Byron. Probably not coincidently, another prominent Mormon, Joseph Smith, was born not far from here/there in Palmyra. Berta had a large bowl of delicious corn chowder, a very good grilled cheese sandwich with chips and a dill pickle for $2.95.
Photos were scarce today because the camera needed new batteries. The camera announced this fact at the first photo op. Unfortunately we can’t show you the sasquach we saw at the Erie Canal commemorative site. However we did find out that the idea for the canal came from a series of essays by a man who was incarcerated. He was sitting in his jail cell in 1817 and wrote that they could build a canal connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River. His vision was realized and the canal they built was in use for a century.
The land here looks a lot like the Midwest, but greener and with smaller fields. The corn is from a foot to maybe two feet tall in some fields. Other fields are alfalfa we think. We have seen a handful of roadside strawberry stands. One offered fabulous-looking pies and cookies that Berta wanted to sample but will never taste because John didn’t stop. As a matter of fact, John doesn’t even remember the stand. It took Berta about a quarter mile to catch up because she had practically gotten off her bike for those cookies.
Speaking of food, we stopped tonight because we were soaked, not tired. The only hotel in Newark, NY is a Quality Inn, that’s where we are. The inn has a restaurant as well. Before dinner we walked down the street to the Wash and Fluff to wash and dry our sodden grimy clothing. Wash & Fluff was a dump with threatening signs warning of the consequences for washing comforters, blankets, sneakers and for unattended children. We used washer #5. It consumed 6 quarters and a $0.50 shot glass of soap and began to churn. Soon the unbalanced light came on so the clothes had to be adjusted. It is hard to fathom how half a pound of Lycra could affect a Maytag. John carefully moved one sock ten degrees. Close the lid and the unbalanced light came back on. It turns out that the machine was not level and would only run if 50 pounds of pressure was applied to the front right corner of the machine. We took turns applying the pressure and were rewarded with freshly laundered clothes and more muscle burn. We digress; back to the restaurant. The motif was Italian nautical with nets on the windows and under glass table tops and there were small ceramic Italian villages as centerpieces. We chose the $8.95 Italian buffet and were rewarded with a gastronomic delight. Six plates later we were sated and praising the cook. It was truly a serendipitous experience.
Day Seven
Newark to Brockport, yeah, we’re still in New York
Start time: 7:50 am
End time: 3:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 54 miles
Total mileage so far: 423 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.24
Weather: 63 degrees with lots of sprinkles
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.2 (out of four)
Animals for the day: A beaver? And some fuzzy Canadian geese kids.
Aside from pedaling, we spent the day consulting the map, shopping and having a wheel trued.
We considered taking the Erie Canal Bike trail this morning, but because of the trail surface we choose the highway. The trail is much safer, but we can make better time on the road. The road surface and the width of the shoulder are paramount to enjoying the experience of bike touring. Here in western New York, the surface and shoulder width vary dramatically. Our experience today included riding serenely one moment and the adrenal glands kicking in the next. There is a diamond sign in these parts that shows a bicycle and underneath the words “Share the Road”. If you spot one of these babies, it’s time to sweat. Basically the sign means there is not enough room for a bicycle and a speeding VW Beatle at the same time, let alone an SUV or Semi. We encountered two of these inanimate prophets today, one over a bridge and one in an underpass. Each time we pedaled like hamsters in a wheel, needed minutes to recover and congratulated ourselves on our survival.
We have also noticed that New York posts signs for people with special needs. For instance, you will enter a neighborhood and see a sign that says “Deaf Person”. We have seen signs for one deaf person, one blind person, and two people in wheelchairs. It makes us wonder why we don’t see more of them. And what are you supposed to do when you see one of the signs? Speed up? Honk?
The crosswalk signals count down how long you have to get your lazy self across the street. It’s a little tenuous running in bike shoes because of the cleats, so we haven’t tried waiting until we see three seconds left and sprinting the rest of the way.
This morning we had breakfast at a small restaurant and engaged the cook in conversation. He talked about his trip to California where he experienced a big earthquake. He said he doesn’t need to go back to San Francisco. He asked if we were traveling by boat, because we walked to breakfast and a neat canal stop was 500 yards away. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the Inn. While we were walking down the street, a car stopped next to us and the cook handed John his beat-up Minnesota Twins baseball
cap that he had left in the restaurant.
Pedaling in Palmyra. Four church steeples in a very small town.
We have two bike maps for western New York, one for the Erie Canal bike path and one for New York Bike Route 5 that roughly follows Highway 31. In general, Berta wants to take the canal; John wants to take the road. We have tried to compromise and use the path when it makes sense. To add unnecessary complication, the maps are not images of each other. We spent too long today trying to get onto the canalway, but gave up, totally baffled, and used the highway.
Since we eat most of the time, we have learned some of the region’s food naming weirdness. Have you heard of a “Hot”? How about a “Chili Hot”? Yeah, they have saved easily ten dollars across the Empire State by omitting the Dog in Hot Dog. How about a Tunnel? What’s a tunnel when you see it on a menu? It is a gross misrepresentation of the sandwich. With a sandwich, the bread protects your hands from the filling. With a Tunnel, they hollow out a hoagie roll, throw out all of the valuable soft bread, and fill the crusty tunnel with the filling. The result is that a Tunnel is a sandwich with none of the benefits of a sandwich.
We have received corrected information about Joseph Smith from one of our clever readers. It turns out that Vermonters, not wishing to give up claim to one of their famous sons, objected to our contention that Joseph Smith was born in New York State. In fact, Smith was born in Vermont and moved to Palmyra when he was a teen. It is not clear whether he has tried a “Tunnel”, but he did have a vision in the area that lead to him founding the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Day Eight
Brockport to Niagara Falls, New York but we can see Canada from here
Start time: 8:30 am
End time: about 3:00 pm
Today’s mileage: 73 miles with one flat tire
Total mileage so far: 496 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.20
Weather: 60 degrees with cloudy skies
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.2 (out of four)
Animals for the day: Beavers for sure, seagulls, and lots of Foo Foo dogs at the falls
Days like today are the reason for bicycle touring. The elements were on our side. In stark contrast to the last three days, all of the American flags that adorn houses, businesses, and car lots were pointing our way today. We averaged over fifteen miles per hour on mostly excellent roads. This type of day makes 70 miles pretty reasonable. Not so reasonable that we don’t have to stop halfway up the hotel stairway to catch our breath and to wait for the lactic acid to clear, but pretty reasonable.
We had the choice of following the bike path today, but decided against it. Once we saw the small lovely town of Holley and realized we would have missed it if we had taken the path, we took the highway instead. We were rewarded with the even lovelier town of Medina. Many of the buildings are stone and the main streets are wide and tidy. We took a picture of the First Baptist Church, then asked a women for a suggestion for lunch. She pointed to a place across the street, then mentioned the Family Restaurant around the corner. John asked where she would go. She said she would go to the Family Restaurant. It was good. There are no Single People Restaurants in New York. Most restaurants are called “Family Restaurant”. They have Party Houses around here too. A party house is usually a bar and a banquet house at least according to the signs. Kallahan’s Bar, Banquet House and Party House, etc.
The First Baptist Church of Medina
Coming into the town of Niagara Falls, we spotted a bike shop and decided to avail ourselves of some local knowledge. What a good idea that was! Not only did we discover that the guy in the shop has a sister who lives in Santa Maria (Small World!), he gave us some great directions. From the bike shop, we rode two blocks from the nightmare road we were on and into suburbia that dumped us onto a bike path on the banks of the Niagara River. We rode for a few miles next to the large river that looks so still it could be a lake. We saw mist in the distance and anticipated that moment when we would turn a corner and see the wall of water coming at us. Our anticipation turned to confusion as the water started to rush along side us. Soon, it was frightening, churning and with large waves, and it was going the wrong way! Instead of seeing the face of the falls, we saw the end of the world were the water disappeared into the mist. When we look at the map of North America, we assume that all water flows from the North Pole towards the Equator; so it was with great bewilderment that we saw the rumbling mass of water flowing uphill towards Canada. It just so happens that the Niagara is one of three great rivers that flow north, or so says our bartender. At the falls, we were treated to a visual delight of nature. The sheer amount of water that goes over the falls is stunning. Our bartender, who might be wrong but sounds authoritative, says one quarter of the fresh water in the world goes over those falls. All who view the falls have the same reaction, no matter what their origin. You can’t help but smile. Many nationalities were evident on the paved paths that connect the different viewing areas. It was interesting to be dressed in tight bike clothes as we rode past women in burkas. Large groups of people who had paid money to get closer to the falls stood patiently in groups wearing yellow or blue plastic ponchos in preparation for the mist.
Niagara Falls is awesome
There is a wedding party in this hotel that has “about twelve” women attendants. We had to stop two of them and ask because it seems like the place is teeming with women in beautiful sage colored satin gowns. There are 400 wedding guests that the servers in the hotel restaurant are waiting for. There is also a 200-person family reunion and a couple of Veterans groups meeting here tonight. We are in one hotel amongst probably twenty hotels on both sides of the falls. It isn’t even the official tourist season yet. We wonder if Niagara Falls is like this and more during the summer.
Day Nine
Niagara Falls, New York to Grimsby, Ontario, Canada
Start time: 8:30 am
End time: about 4:00 pm
Today’s mileage: 66 kilometers
Total mileage so far: 551 miles
Local Gas Prices: 89.5 ¢ per ℓ
Weather: about 15.5 degrees Celsius, very pleasant
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.2 (out of four)
Animals for the day: A Canadian Cocker Spaniel and Black Squirrels!
Bicycle wheels are simple structures and ours are taking a beating. The road surfaces in these latitudes have many potholes and patches. We have both hit holes so hard that we wondered if we damaged the wheel. Yet they continue to perform well, and are amazingly strong considering how they are made.
We started the day with another visit to Niagara Falls on both sides of the border. The roar of the water falling is substantial. As a result of the mist, the road surface across from Horseshoe Falls never dries out. A couple of drunk fellows provided some early morning comedy and we, as tourists, provided them entertainment. They spent a few minutes with each group of falls gawkers.
The Horseshoe Falls from the Canada side
Leaving the falls, we crossed Rainbow Bridge into Canada. We pedaled around some steep hills trying to find an open money changer to no avail. We gave up and were off to Niagara on the Lake, which we found by default and then became quite lost. We bought a map and oh boy, Canadian maps are different from ours. The route we chose had at least five different road numbers and the numbers we saw on the road signs sometimes matched nothing on the map.
We stopped at the Sir Adam Beck Power Plant stations 1 and 2 for a tour. We learned that the Niagara River is one of the world’s greatest sources of hydroelectric power. The Beck plant produces almost 2 million kilowatts of power. We saw a huge lathe that the plant uses to true turbine drive shafts. The rotor on the turbine weighs 40,000 lbs so you can imagine what would happen if the drive shaft was out of balance. The shafts turn at 150 rpm. Huge pipes called penstocks bring water diverted from above the falls down the walls of the river canyon to the turbines. The penstock is tapered toward the bottom to increase flow. An agreement between the US and Canada says that the flow of the Niagara River during tourist season and between 8 AM and 10PM must not drop below a certain level. Apparently, you can tell when water is being diverted because the falls are not quite so majestic. If the need arises for increased
power demand during the day, the Canadians have built a 27 acre reservoir that is 80 feet deep. They draw extra water from the reservoir for the turbines and refill the reservoir during the night. Clever folks.
The power plant on the American side, as seen from the top of the Beck Power Plant
Much of the terrain today was covered by vineyards and we roughly followed the local Wine Route. We did spend a fair amount of time lost today. It got worse after we stopped for lunch at Sweets Café in St. Catherines. Our hero of the day was Ed, a road biker. Ed went out of his way by several miles to help us. It was a good thing that most of the time we followed Ed we were going downhill. He is a member of the St. Catherines Cycling Club and rides a fancy bike with no bags. We gasped up a hill and thanked goodness when we saw the road Ed kept referring to. He gave us our instructions while we tried to regain our composure. Without Ed’s help we might still be wandering aimlessly. With his help, we rejoined our route and found a service road that we followed for many miles.
Ed Rocks
We have seen lots of squirrels in our lives, grey and red, but never black. Well, they have black squirrels up here. They are the same bushy active squirrels that are so fun to watch, but they’re black. The locals must be amused by our interest in their rodents.
We waited about ten minutes for a huge tanker to cross our path in a canal. The drawbridge cantilevered from the opposite shore and dropped towards us:
Drawbridge Down
We have learned on this trip to start asking for suggestions for nightly lodging before we are ready to stop. That way, we can go the final miles while we still have energy for it. We rode for a long way at a great pace—thank you, tailwind—along the Southern shore of Lake Ontario. We enjoyed the very nice neighborhoods on the approach to the town of Grimsby. Just at the right time, John asked a walker lady where we could stay in town. She told us about the motel and the truck stop and Super 8 motel that was just around the corner and down the street. “The Super 8 is pretty new”, she boasted, “and has a fitness room”. A fitness room?!? She added that there used to be the Kittling Ridge Inn, but “I think they are in receivership now”. We pedaled right past the Super 8 to the Kittling Ridge Inn that was 500 meters away. They may be in receivership, but they took our Yankee money. We have a nice room and had steak dinners in a nice restaurant in the building. The instrumental music in the background, during dinner, was music you would hear in Esther Williams movies. Imagine women with feathered headdresses sliding into water crossed with modern Olympic synchronized swimming. That’s what dinner was like.
Day Ten
Grimsby to Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Start time: 9:00 am after fixing a flat first thing
End time: 2:00 pm
Today’s mileage: 53 kilometers
Total mileage so far: 595 miles
Local Gas Prices: 84.9 ¢
Weather: about 22 degrees Celsius, warmer, bright blue skies
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.2 (out of four)
Animals for the day: Horses and Cows. Lots of Red Robins.
Canadians are startled by bright colors. Of course, they wear red a lot, but it is not a bright red Maple leaf on their flag. Our magenta jerseys are too much for them. They say Wow! and throw their hands up like they accidentally looked at the sun. We tell them it either works to alert drivers to avoid us, or people are temporarily blinded and swerve dangerously near us. We have been wearing these colors the whole trip, but only recently have people commented. It is extra fun because there is something kind of off about how they say, “Wow!” up here.
Berta at the South Shore of Lake Ontario
We entered Canada with three grams of American paper money and have accumulated several pounds of Canadian money, which seems to always come back in coins. It is very confusing to hear the cashier say you will get five dollars back and she hands you three coins. It makes perfect sense when you realize they have two-dollar coins here. Since we are thinking dollars are paper, we forget to spend the coins and they are piling up. All of the other coins and paper are very similar to American money, so it must be these dollar and two dollar coins that can explain our bulging pockets. When you are on a car trip, you can just throw the coins in the cup holder. On a bike trip, you will eventually roll to a stop and tip over like a cow.
There are other ways in which a bike trip differs from other kinds of traveling. When we get to a Motel (a Botel?), we don’t wait to take a shower because we don’t like things sticking to us. First, we open our nine packs and empty everything onto the spare bed if we have one. When we have energy for it, there are designated Berta zones and John zones, but no matter whether we divide the space, we end up with a monolayer of items covering the whole room. We can identify any item with a glance. Yeah, right.
Actually, we are constantly looking for one of the twenty-five total items we have with us. How we can constantly have lost about four percent of our things, we will never know. On good nights, we have access to a washing machine. On bad nights, we wear our clothes into the shower. In the morning, all of our things float up into smoke and stream back into the Genie-bottle packs.
Hamilton had some steps with a trough for bike wheels
We recommend a trip like this for any couple who want to know more about each other. We have learned that John uses at least three times more shampoo than Berta. This clearly is not explained by normal laws of nature. Berta can brush her hair over her face and make the sun disappear. John can brush his hair towards his face and nothing changes. Why does John use more shampoo than Berta? Maybe it is based on hand size, but clearly not need.
Brantford is called the Telephone City because Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone while living near the city at the Bell Homestead. The first long distance telephone call was made on August 10, 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell from downtown Brantford to his assistant in Paris, Ontario. Other famous Brantford residents include electron microscope inventor James Hillier and hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky. Just down the street is Wayne Gretzky Boulevard.
We are trying to decide what part of speech is “Eh”? As in: “Hey how’s it going eh”? “Eh” definitely is a part of speech in Canadianese. We heard it today from a person who obviously was not a native English speaker. Is it a person, place or thing? No, it’s not a noun. Is it an action word, maybe? Does it modify a verb or a noun? No, Berta claims it is officially punctuation. Maybe they think they have to read the period. Eh.
Day Eleven
Brantford to London, Ontario, Canada
Start time: 8:15 am
End time: 4:20 pm
Today’s mileage: 109 kilometers
Total mileage so far: 663 miles
Local Gas Prices: Spaced on it.
Weather: about 23 degrees Celsius, warm, it started to rain as we stopped
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.0 (out of four)
Animals for the day: A Great Blue Heron in flight, Geese, domestic chickens
The Saddle Sore-o-meter reading has jumped to one star on account of the pavement situation in Canada. They must lay their pavement in ten foot sections because most of the roads have seat-jarring ruts every ten feet or so. Picture getting a slow motion spanking for six hours, except you didn’t do anything wrong. Canada also has a limited budget for road shoulders. Having said that, Canadians in these parts are some of the most polite drivers you will ever see. If they have the opportunity, they will move all the way over the yellow line to give us room. If there is oncoming traffic, many drivers here will slow way down and wait to pass until the traffic clears.
We’re in farm country and as such see lots of farm equipment. We saw the coolest baler today that was used for large rolls of hay. Yes, this is a Hay Roll Region. What the machine does is wrap the bale in plastic to keep the hay from rotting. The baler is pulled by a tractor over the bale, and then two arms with rotating rollers squeeze the bale and lift it off the ground. Then the bale is rotated while plastic wrap covers it. We stood there like the city folks we are and gawked. We also saw a baler that makes the usual rectangular bales and shoots the bale about ten feet in the air into a trailer. There is a funny poof of hay dust that flies off the Bale in Space. Nobody has to stand in the trailer and lift the bale but the bales are randomly distributed so there is wasted space.
The Hay Bale Wrapper and resulting Big Marshmallows
The country here is quite lovely. We have noticed that there is rarely any trash along the roadside or in the towns, except for empty Tim Horton’s coffee cups. Tim Horton’s is a chain of donut shops. Our experience with Canada and Canadians has been very positive. They are friendly, willing to stop what they are doing to give directions and they seem to like Americans. Certainly Detroit should like Canadians because they mostly drive American vehicles.
Some people we meet take a minute to warm up to us, but some of them seek us out and ask all sorts of questions. We had a conversation with three women who saw us outside a market during a juice break. They asked where we are going and where we have come from. Early in the Canadian portion of our adventure, we stopped saying we started in New Hampshire. After the guy asked if that was in Spain (“Yes, we had a difficult headwind in the Northern Atlantic”), we decided to be less confusing. So we have been telling people we started in Boston. These ladies looked unimpressed until one asked, “In Massachusetts”? It turns out there is a Boston very close by in Ontario. As a matter of fact, there is one of practically every town of the world in Ontario. We are staying in London and pedaled near Cambridge, Dorchester, Avon and Norwich. Either the early settlers here had very poor imaginations, or they were very homesick for England. Anyway, these ladies were very proud that we find their fellow citizens very polite. They wanted to know if the exhaust from cars bother us. Like many people who want to ask questions of us, they wanted to know why we are stopping in Minnesota. “Do you live there?” “Do you have family there?”
Yesterday, we met a guy in a Hamilton bike shop where we stopped for route suggestions. He spent twenty minutes with a highlighter and our various maps, indicating the best way to get to London. While he went to his car to retrieve his map book, his buddy there quickly whispered that we were talking to a member of the Canadian Olympic cycling team of 1972 and 1976. “He doesn’t talk much about it, though”.
We sought out another bike shop at the end of the ride yesterday in Brantford, The Bicycle Shop on Clarence Street. After the staff recovered from our loud jerseys, we did the best we could with three people giving us suggestions at once. It seemed like these people were dad, mom, and daughter. All of a sudden, they realized that we just had to get over to Warmington’s Bistro—they close at three!—where they said the people are real nice and the food is just wonderful. Mom said she would call over so they would know we were on our way. We sprinted maybe six blocks only to find a note on the door that the restaurant was closed while the proprietors attended a funeral. As we were standing there with our hands on our hips, Mom drove up and told us it was a shame but they were out of town. It was a real shame because the cook at our motel restaurant didn’t know how to cook noodles.
We get a good deal of help by looking pathetic while holding a map and pointing randomly in different directions. Today, we had to do that for about five minutes before an Oxford County Policeman pulled up from where he was parked fifty meters away. After ten minutes, we had a hand-drawn map for getting to a motel and how to get back on a good road tomorrow. We felt this was very generous, considering that there was an announcement on the car radio that there was concrete falling into lanes on the freeway nearby.
Day Twelve
London to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
Start time: 8:50 am
End time: 3:00 pm
Today’s mileage: 104 kilometers but very different than yesterday
Total mileage so far: 728 miles
Local Gas Prices: 84.9 Canadian cents per liter. That translates to about $2.75 US per gallon
Weather: about 21 degrees Celsius, warm
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.0 (out of four)
Animals for the day: Painted sheep (think sheep Holsteins), lots of birds that look like a cross between sparrows and sandpipers who, when you startle them, fly around and tweet like hee-hee laughter
Sometimes, expectations are low. We expected today to be like yesterday, with strong headwinds. We were wrong. Yesterday, it took about two hours longer than today to go three miles farther. The wind that was in our face yesterday was North by Northwest today, just enough at our back to give us a high average speed. For extended periods, we traveled at about twenty miles per hour.
When we realized the wind was our friend this morning, we agreed we should take advantage of it while it lasted. At twenty-five miles, we had some juice and Gatorade. We powered on for fifteen more miles until we stopped in Warwick because it was the only town of any size on the map for a while. We knew lunch was now or way too late. Warwick is one of those towns where the people in larger towns near it say, “Blink, and you will miss it”. We saw one sign that said Restaurant. It was outside a gas station convenience store. We parked our bikes in front of the store/restaurant and were told roughly that the bicycles should be parked around the side by the fence. With this less than auspicious start we began lunch.
This plane rotated into the wind.
John asked the waitress/cook what she wanted to make (he’s pretty savvy), and she chuckled and pointed to the specials on the board. We chose BLT sandwiches on white bread. In Canada, you have the choice of white or brown bread. We received perfect BLT sandwiches with very good coleslaw and bread and butter pickles. The only downside so far was the iced tea John had. Unsweetened iced tea is very hard to find in Canada and John prefers unsweetened tea. After consuming our BLTs, we knew we needed more to eat, so we asked for the pumpkin pie on special. We were treated to what was quite possibly the best
pumpkin pie either one of us has ever had. It was still warm from the oven, which was nice with the ice cream John had and the whipped cream Berta had. Now, our hunger could have been based on the fact that we had been riding for three hours at this point. Bike touring is like camping, where food tastes extra good. But it is different in that we have been eating several times a day for twelve days. We are starting to get tired of eating (so says Berta). This meal truly stood out.
The countryside in Southwest Ontario
So there we were, sitting in a small restaurant with fluorescent clothing on, attracting attention. The couple sitting next to us finally asked, “Where are you heading?” That question unleashed a torrent of questions. We answered and asked questions of our own. Well, the questioning couple is retired and they like to divide their lunch time between the restaurant where we ate and the one at Hickory Corner. The couple had, until recently, traveled on vacation by Goldwing motorcycle but recently sold the bike and bought a Mustang convertible so that the Mrs. could drive while the hubby spectated. They have a team of Morgan horses and take them out several times each month with their wagon that has a heater for cold weather. How privileged we were to share this interaction with average citizens of Canada. What a cool trip we are having. Sometimes expectations can’t be high enough.
Day Thirteen
Sarnia, Ontario, Canada to Sandusky, Michigan
Start time: 7:40 am, 9:15 finally on the road
End time: 1:45 pm
Today’s mileage: 54 miles
Total mileage so far: 782 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.27
Weather: 77 degrees with blue skies
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.2 (out of four). Bad roads again for the morning.
Animals for the day: The Yellow Birds from Vermont are back. They have all lemon-yellow bodies and dark wings. They are swallow-sized. We saw a Black Squirrel. Three horses stopped what they were doing (apparently having a meeting) and walked towards us with great interest. Did we look like rolling magenta carrots?
Crossing the border today proved easier than we thought. Last night, the Tourist Information people casually mentioned that bicycles and pedestrians are prohibited on the Blue Water Bridge. It is a huge bridge, long and tall, that links Canada to America at Point Edward at the lowest point of Lake Huron. The tourist folks suggested we could take the ferry at Sorna, which was eighteen miles out of our way! It is hard to hear that kind of news and not walk like a kid about to throw a fit. We asked the clerk at the motel desk (who probably is a librarian during the day) what to do. We walked back to the room with the phone number of the Bridge Authority and hopes that we could beg a ride across the bridge. The woman we talked to gave every caveat because it is such an inconvenience to do this. She indicated they only do this for cross-country cyclists and only if it isn’t busy. We guess the local cyclists get a lot of exercise going down to the ferry in Sorna. “Before eight in the morning would be the best”, she warned.
We followed directions this morning and the same young woman (that Berta talked with) walked across the parking lot near the toll plaza to meet us and drive us across. John held the bikes in the bed of the truck while Berta talked with the driver, who asked if we are camping because she doesn’t care so much for it. It seems the mosquitoes are too much for her. The U.S. Customs Officer at the booth on the other side was ready to wave her through, but she pointed to us stowaways and let us out to go inside and show our identification. There was a multinational mass of folks inside and no apparent line. We asked where the end of the line was and were told there wasn’t any so we stepped up to a counter. We were ignored for about five minutes then a customs agent asked why we were there. “The Canadians sent us”, we replied. “Why?” he asked. “Because we just came from Canada,” we replied. “Why are you taking your bikes into Canada?” the agent asked, adding “You can’t do that!” All this time he is looking at our California drivers licenses. We reexplained that we had just come across the bridge and wanted to go into Michigan. The questioning was very congenial but a bit confused. He asked a little more about our trip and was so impressed that we could have had pounds of contraband strapped to our bike frames.
We stopped in Avoca, Michigan for a break (John has juice if there is no Hawaiian Punch and Berta knows all the Gatorade flavors). We try not to complain, but commented to the clerk that our fellow countrymen are much less polite to bicyclists than Canadians. “But maybe it is just the city folk who are
so rude,” we said to try to dilute our complaint. The other customer, writing a check for a gallon of milk and two dozen glazed donuts, muttered “yes, very rude”.
The road in Michigan
About ten miles later, we stopped in Yale for lunch. The people at the bank, where we cashed some travelers checks, suggested CJ’s Restaurant. On the approach to CJ’s, Berta saw a paper banner that said “Lindsey McMillin for Bologna Queen” in big hand-painted letters. We wondered if Lindsey makes things up and someone was playing a prank on her. We decided it was legitimate when we saw the Bologna Festival banners on every lamppost lining the main street. The banners feature a Bologna character that looks suspiciously like a smiling, walking, waving wiener. Let it be known to all that John saw none of these banners and was busily trying to avoid potholes and semis during our approach to the town.
Lunch was served by the 1995 Bologna Festival queen. Her majesty was delightful, voluble, and overweight with a small fortune of dental gold. She explained the rules of becoming the bologna king or queen of Yale, Michigan. The Bologna Festival is a yearly event and the official bologna dance is this weekend. The folks who have royal aspirations announce their intentions at the dance. She pointed out a fellow across the street who had jumped the gun and was already collecting money. “You do anything you can for six weeks to raise money.” The eventual winners are the ones who collect the most cash for the town’s general fund. Have you ever heard of Yale Bologna? “It’s famous!” the Queen insisted.
Young men do silly and dangerous things with motor vehicles. We were first-hand witnesses to a scantily clad motorcyclist who pulled an impressive wheelie past us traveling at least 80 mph. His stunt was clearly for our entertainment
Two tidbits: we are in Michigan and the whole place is covered with Detroit Pistons gear for the final game of the NBA playoffs tonight. Also, we are in the “thumb” of Michigan. Lots of businesses here have “thumb” in their names.
See all the Great Lakes and the Thumb of Michigan
Road shoulders vary wildly from county to county. Depending on the situation, we view an upcoming sign that says “Entering _ County” with anticipation or dread. Our road this morning was unbelievably rough. At the Sarinac County sign, the sun broke through the clouds and angels from on high sang for the grandeur of new asphalt. The shoulder was adequate and smooth. A few miles later, we saw construction signs. There were pylons on the centerline that scared off all the traffic and miles of brand new surface! We passed the crew who were applying asphalt at a side street and saw more new surface! It seemed like several miles with no traffic, a light tailwind, some downhills, and perfect road. Nirvana.
Day Fourteen
Sandusky to Saginaw, Michigan
Start time: 7:50 am
End time: 1:45 pm
Today’s mileage: 61 miles
Total mileage so far: 843 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.27
Weather: 78 degrees when we started, 92 degrees at midday, 36% humidity, 18 mph winds out of the Southwest
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.2 (out of four).
Animals for the day: A pug dog who ran with us for fifty yards along his property
It has been Buffet Heaven since we last talked. Last evening, we stood outside the motel in Sandusky and looked at our choices for dinner. You might try that sometime: limit yourself to what you can walk to in stiff bike shoes. We had a choice of fast food burgers, pizza or Bob’s Big Boy. Bob’s promised more variety, so we quickly agreed to go there. It turns out that the restaurant is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the anniversary special was $1.50 shakes and malts. They had an all-you-can-eat salad bar and we did our best to show them what that means. We sighted the first example on this trip of fruit covered with pink cool whip.
That buffet and breakfast held us over well enough until the Lunch Buffet at Fritz’s in Richville. Fritz’s restaurant has been in existence as some sort of commercial enterprise since Highway 15 was an “Indian path”. It was a trading post, an ice cream parlor during Prohibition, a hotel and now it is a restaurant. All permutations were owned by successive generations of one family. These and other facts that we read on the face of the menu were embellished by the previous owner of the restaurant, Don Dietrich. Don talked to us at length about his restaurant, his family, where the USA is going, and his gripe about the $20,000.00 liability insurance he pays. We thought about suggesting $500.00 of improvements to the hazardous threshold at the entrance of the restaurant to reduce his liability. His sons and daughters-in-law own the restaurant now. Don has strong opinions about what is wrong with this country. Essentially, we have to look out for China, improve family values and start working hard. He rides his bike to work at the restaurant where it seems his roll as part-time table clearer and full-time chatterer. He told us of a bike accident he had where he was in the hospital for two and a half months because he was not wearing a bike helmet. There are pictures on the wall of his ancestors. His descendents are hurrying around taking orders and refilling the mashed potatoes in the buffet bar.
Hay Rolls in Michigan
The buffet offered meatballs, bread and rolls, warm pickled cabbage, mashed potatoes, mashed butternut squash (John says Ug!), macaroni and cheese, two types of fried fish, cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, pea salad, three-bean salad, banana pudding, and chocolate chip cookies. We availed ourselves of the entire selection. Our waitress recognized that we had been out in the heat and brought a pitcher of ice water so we could refill our own glasses. Because Don took such an interest in us, we were in the restaurant for about an hour. Well, the wind velocity had changed in that hour. We returned to the road and had a tough time making reasonable forward progress. The shoulder we ride on is about 18 inches wide and we share the rest of the roadway with semis, cars and farm machinery. The unpaved shoulder is quite soft and when two semis are approaching we stop and move the far right of the shoulder. This makes for slow and tense mileage.
We were warned to avoid the eastern part of Saginaw because it is a “rough neighborhood”. We checked into the first hotel we saw and stood in the lobby literally dripping with sweat. That is where we are tonight and we have been treated well. Berta had an insect bite on her arm that is large even by her standards, so we asked where to find a walk-in emergency clinic. We were given instructions to find a local clinic that were completely wrong. We ended up at a tire shop asking directions for the clinic that doesn’t exist.
At the tire shop, we were treated with concern and caring that complete strangers should not expect. The woman at the tire shop called her husband’s doctor to see if they would take Berta and when that failed she called other physicians. In our experience, most people care about other people everywhere in this country.
Day Fifteen
Saginaw to Clare, Michigan
Start time: 8:05 am
End time: 2:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 64 miles
Total mileage so far: 907 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.35
Weather: 85 degrees with high humidity, which is fine when you keep moving. Stop, and you melt.
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.0 and falling
Animals for the day: A doe and her fawn, some cow families, some goats
We saw Saginaw, Michigan through the tunnel vision of taking a highway from East to West straight through the town. While bike touring does not give us a complete picture of a place, it can give us an interesting look at a very small cross section. Saginaw on the East side is rough and run down, with five-acre weed-strewn parking lots in front of empty commercial buildings. On the West side of Saginaw, we saw golf carts using a special bridge to cross Highway 46, which bisects a golf course.
The wind changed today, blowing from the Northeast. It did not obstruct our progress and was a good help in keeping us cool. It was very quiet in the early hours when we rode through Saginaw. Highway 47 to Midland was pretty good and lightly traveled by cars at that time on a Saturday. Entering Midland, we stopped at a convenience store for drinks. We talked with the workers there, and visited with the guy who delivers ice to them while watching some crazy guy doing very fast sliding laps of the parking lot in a go-cart. We laughed with delight as he did spin after spin. The women said, “they do that all summer”. They must go through many tires in a summer.
Arriving in Midland, we stopped at a bike shop to have some cleaning and lubrication done. We visited with the employees and found one had lived in Long Beach and another wanted to move to Boulder, Colorado. The one who had lived in Midland all her life wanted to move, the former Californian was quite content. At the bike shop we were encouraged to attend the farmer’s market three blocks away. It was good advice: we purchased two huge homemade sugar-covered cinnamon rolls from an Amish family. The cost: $1.00 each. John smiled.
Midland is the start of the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail of mid-Michigan. The trail follows the Midland to Clare route of the old Flint & Pere Marquette railroad that once moved timber to the sawmills and supplies to the thriving logging industry that existed during the last century and before. The trail is exquisitely paved, about 10’ wide and 29.4 miles long. There are regularly spaced, well maintained bathrooms with drinking water and even an air hose with 110 PSI maximum.
The bike path ran through the middle of Coleman
When we saw a deer standing on the side of the path, we came to almost a complete stop to watch her. She walked slowly across the path, and then we saw her spotted fawn just two feet tall emerge from the heavy brush. Bambi didn’t quite know what to do with John’s bright self standing so nearby. It bounded along the grassy edge of the path for ten feet before thinking better of it and following its mother. The light clop-clop of the fawn’s hooves as it crossed the pavement was enchanting.
We haven’t considered Michigan a bike friendly state, but toward the end of the bike path today Berta said she was starting to like Michigan. We checked into a motel and went to the Ponderosa Steak House for dinner. Wow what a feast! Customers pay for a steak or chicken and then everything else from the buffet is included like salad, pastas, meatloaf, you name it and dessert. The bill was $21.37 and after five helpings of dessert we waddled back to the motel.
Berta misses the path already
Across the street from the restaurant there was a horse and buggy and a display of Amish goods for sale. The Amish are quite in evidence around here. The Amish broke away from the Mennonites nearly 300 years ago when differences arose amongst leaders in Switzerland. Some sought a stricter lifestyle that
included the shunning, which is the social avoidance of erring church members. Tensions ran high and eventually in 1693, a complete split occurred. Forty years later, many Amish responded to William Penn’s invitation to come to America and settle the land. No Amish now remain in Europe. Currently there are approximately 145,000 Amish men, women and children living in 22 states in the United States and in Ontario, Canada. There are 220 Amish settlements accommodating over 900 geographically determined church districts. Locally, they manufacture fine furniture and many other handmade goods. The Amish are characterized as humble folk—hard working, neighborly, agrarian, God-fearing, ethnically homogenous—who live the simple life and live it well.
We are in a motel in Clare tonight. This is the land of unrestricted fireworks and it is the weekend before Independence Day. We are considering throwing all restraint to the wind and buying several pounds of all the stuff we cannot light off at home. Who cares about carrying it! There are many people staying here for a wedding in town, and many for a local girl’s basketball tournament. The wedding people seem to have cleared the place for the evening, and John is delivering play by play for some kids playing Frisbee in the parking lot.
Good night from Michigan.
Day Sixteen
Clare to Baldwin, Michigan
Start time: 8:45 am
End time: 2:00 pm
Today’s mileage: 64 miles
Total mileage so far: 971 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.23
Weather: A lot cooler than yesterday. 58 Degrees at the Bank on Main Street. We actually wore our jackets some.
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1.0 still
Animals for the day: Bison and baby sheep at one farm
We woke to the flash of lightening and the rumble of thunder this morning. That was just before six. By the time we were ready to leave, the ground was almost dry. Our concern for bad weather was unfounded except for one short cloudburst. We pulled out the rain jackets only to put them away a short time later. What good luck we have had with weather!
A few days ago, in Kingston, we talked to a mother and son pair in a convenience store. They mentioned that the broken pavement on Highway 46 is scheduled to be repaved next year. Ever since that comment, we have joked about bad surface: “It’s bad, but they are repaving it next week!” Today, our jokes weren’t enough to overcome the pavement on our side of Highway 10. What was worse was that the other side was brand new! It looked like they will finish the westbound side in the next couple of days. Our side of the road had already received a patching of the cracks that were spaced at about ten feet. The patches were practically unnoticeable in the driving line, but on the shoulder, they were poorly-formed three inch high speed bumps. In between, the truck had dribbled grapefruit sized globs of asphalt in our way. It is hard to believe that our wheels are still round.
That bad stretch was four miles long according to a “Construction Ahead” sign we saw. We did have some good pavement today and very good tailwinds. At one point, we saw an old, pudgy cattle dog barking and running excited circles on the side of the road outside his farm. “Hey!” he said, “How ya doin?” He got up to speed and ran along the other shoulder at speeds approaching 17 mph. He was barking all the while, paws parallel to the ground at mid-stride. He gave us one last Bark! for farewell and probably slept on the porch the rest of the day. He is at home this evening, telling his family about the bright yellow cows he herded down the road today.
Before we arrived in Baldwin, we knew there were no big-name motel chains there. We stopped at the first gas station in town and asked where the motels are. We pedaled almost four miles, passing some real no-tell-motels. One place, the Pere Marquette River Lodge, looked good enough after sixty miles of traveling. We entered a massive fishing store and noticed about 400 square feet of fly-fishing items displayed on the wall. There were many pictures of beaming people holding huge fish. The people who run the lodge also serve as guides for hunting and fishing trips. We asked hopefully if the room has Internet access. The young woman smiled and said they had cable television but no Internet, no phone. The view from our second-floor room is of the thickness of the North Woods. We could use the horseshoe pit or a campfire ring in the back of the lodge, but more than likely we will bask in the lovely stream of cool air coming from the rumbling, window-mounted air conditioner.
Our room is upstairs in the lodge and there are no hall lights so inserting the key in the door lock is trial and error. The room is clean with the shower/tub in the main room and a closet containing the toilet and sink. The furniture and architecture is early Shiny Log Rustic. On the bottom floor of the lodge several dead animals stare sightlessly. One is a bobcat with very soft fur; another is a bear, enclosed in a glass cabinet, standing up and wearing a baseball cap. On the coffee table are current issues of Guns and Ammo and fly fishing books. On the wall, a big map of Mexico hangs incongruously, but may explain the book about Tequila on the table.
We had dinner at the All Seasons Restaurant, conveniently located within biking distance from the lodge. The servers were readying the back room for a baby shower for someone who had her twin babies nine weeks early. One of the cooks was Asian, which explains the Tuesday Night Chinese Buffet highlighted on the roadside sign for the place. The cook’s daughter and son-in-law were eating dinner when we arrived. Their children are going to stay with their other grandparents for the summer. We know this because in a small town restaurant the patrons often talk to the workers from across the room, allowing the workers to keep working, but maintaining friendly chatter all the while.
Day Seventeen
Baldwin to Ludington, Michigan
Start time: 9:00 am
End time: 12:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 40 miles
Total mileage so far: 1011 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.27
Weather: Hot Hot Hot. The humidity was listed as 94% on the Weather Channel
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.5
Animals for the day: Red Winged Black Birds that wanted to keep us away from their nests and beautiful black butterflies with bright blue on them.
The Lodge Lobby
This trip has been a celebration of flowering bedding plants. It seems that people who live with snow can’t wait to get some color in the yard. Even the smallest towns have a nursery or two that offer “Happy Glads” or some other brightness. City streets have huge hanging baskets of flowers on every antique light post. One town we crossed yesterday had half a mile of plants in the dirt boulevard along the main street. It was obvious that they were carefully tended.
We had breakfast at the All Seasons Restaurant, where we had dinner last night. We had ordered, but our food had not arrived, when some other patrons entered the restaurant. They grabbed their coffees with one hand and lit up cigarettes with the other. It is hard to remember that smoking is still allowed in restaurants in some states. After some subtle hand signals and eye-pointing, we took our orange juices to the baby shower room, which we realized was the no smoking section. When our server brought our food, she said, “I don’t blame you! I am congested for about four hours every morning.”
About eight miles into today’s ride, John announced that we had a cyclist gaining on us. “Oh no,” Berta thought. “We haven’t seen another cyclist for two states and a province, and we need to get in a race with him?” The guy did catch us after a while. He is a triathelete who is staying in a cabin in Baldwin and wanted to get some training in before he went canoeing with his girls. We rode with him for about ten miles, John riding near him and Berta enjoying the draft of two fast guys. He turned around to make it back for the canoeing, and offered words of safe travels for the rest of our trip.
In this neck of the woods, restaurants place in front of you a paper placemat and your silverware wrapped by a paper napkin. The placemat is geographically sensitive and displays 20-25 ads for local businesses. One ad stated, “If your toilet don’t flush, call us.” We speculated on the process the owners of the septic tank business used for settling on that motto. The center of today’s placemat had a calendar for May and June with all the pertinent public happenings. Like: Mason County 4-H Youth Horse Show, Fountain Horse Pull, Maple Syrup Pancake Breakfast, Jaycees Parade of Cars Show, tractor pulls, silent auctions, art shows and all manner of things that locals do in their leisure.
Riding around town this afternoon, we encountered a mural that was 20’ x 15’ painted on the side of a building and entitled “Ludington’s Own Hero’s.” The mural showed a Civil War soldier standing firing a rifle with a cannon in the background. Next to him was a Korean War medic (sailor) tending to a wounded Marine with a large portrait of the sailor with his medals. The mural showed the names and ranks of these two local men who won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Just a random cow head on the side of a market
Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Artiodactyla, Family: Cervidae, Genus: Odocoileinae or the White tailed deer are quite abundant and apparently influential in these parts. There are numerous representations of deer made of plaster, welded steel, woven wood, cement, plastic, and silhouetted in plywood. Some inanimate deer we have seen have diagrams on them showing location of heart, lungs, etc., presumably for target practice.
Tomorrow, we will take a ferry to Wisconsin. While we were buying our passage, we met two bicyclists headed for Missoula, Montana. They were camping cyclists, which means they are much tougher than we are. We guess they are somewhere around high school or college age. They both shyly stroked their short hair when they talked. We offered suggestions for their route from Western Minnesota to Missoula because they said they didn’t know what way they will go. We compared bikes—theirs had fenders, more baggage, and wider tires than ours. They have seen few other cyclists on their 600-plus mile trip so far from Pennsylvania. We, also, have seen few other long-distance cyclists. We left them with a priceless nugget: “don’t miss the world’s largest ball of twine!”
Day Eighteen
Ludington, Michigan to Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Start time: 8:00 am Eastern time on the ferry, 12:00 Central time on the bikes
End time: 2:30 pm
Today’s mileage: 32 miles
Total mileage so far: 1043 miles
Local Gas Prices: $2.27
Weather: Didn’t we say Hot Hot Hot yesterday?
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0.5
Animals for the day: A baby red robin who hopped around, chirping for its mother.
Some people wishing to talk to strangers subtly insinuate themselves into a conversation. Others, brasher, rush across the room and blurt out a question or statement. We were accosted by a guy in Big Boy who exclaimed as we passed his table, “That’s a great color!” in reference to our jerseys. On his way out of the restaurant, he approached our table. “People will tell you that color is out of style, but I love it!” he said. Uh, thanks? He described a ski outfit he used to have that had magenta pants and a matching shell with neon pink highlights. We could just picture the haircut he sported with that bad suit.
This morning, we took the S.S. Badger across Lake Michigan from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The trip took four hours and carried us into Central Standard Time at the Wisconsin border. For much of the passage, no land was visible. The Badger is the only coal-fired passenger steamship operating in the United States. Launched in 1953, it is 410’ long and 60’ wide. It has two cast-steel 4-blade propellers, each weighing 15,400 pounds. It leaves a smudge on the horizon proving why it is the last coal-fired passenger ship. On the deck, the wind is strong enough at the cruising speed of 18 mph to
blow a cap off your head. Or John’s head. His well-worn Minnesota Twins cap with Dairy Queen logo was sacrificed to the lake mid-passage. Berta didn’t see this happen, but John was talking to the bicyclists we met when the cap went airborne. John says the young men got a big charge out of it. The Flying Cap Tragedy, as it will be known, led to some speculation that the cap actually flew over the rail and onto the lower deck. John walked the other decks to no avail.
Berta, Chris, and Dave on the S.S. Badger
We met a guy on the boat who is on a motorcycle trip with his buddies. He was wearing a sleeveless orange shirt advertising Harley Davidson of San Antonio. Atop his head was a leather hat he wore backwards. He was bearded and had twinkling blue eyes. He mentioned that he had retired from the Postal Service because—holding up his right hand that was missing his index finger—he no longer had a trigger finger. He talked nonstop for 15 minutes with John desperately looking for rescue. Most of the time, the guy looked over our heads at other passengers while he talked. Finally, he wanted to know what we “do.” The answer took 15 seconds and it looked like a new monolog was beginning but docking saved us. Now, he owns trucks that transport RVs and campers to new buyers and is looking forward to more motorcycle trips…
Another Big Cow (wearing vest)
Disembarking, we took some photos with the other bicyclists and met what one of them called “the friendliest cop” he had ever met. The policeman was most helpful in providing Manitowoc county maps. He suggested a route for us before showing the guys how they could get through town to go west. He told us about the eighteen-foot cow we would see in town. We headed south in search of food, soon locating and devouring 8” subs at a place called Fatzos. We rode south along the shore of Lake Michigan, which is much clearer and greener than we expected. Tonight, we are in Sheboygan.
Bike Nielsen 2005 Epilogue
A few days ago, we realized the math wouldn’t work out for the rest of the trip. We made plans for renting a car to drive across Wisconsin. We got the car this morning and all of a sudden we were traveling across the map at an unbelievable rate. In less than one hour, we covered more than a map inch. We are used to being on one panel of a folding map for most of a day, ripping and mangling a map before we finish with it. We adjusted the air conditioning with abandon. We laughed at the wind, the hills, and inadequate road shoulders. We looked longingly at a bike path that went for at least ten miles next to Highway 23 out of Sheboygan. We drove with the confidence and comfort of people who have windshield wipers and are surrounded by a metal box.
We ate lunch without looking out the window at our bikes, to see if they were still there, and without our forearms sticking to the table. Berta sang to the radio when the oldies were in her key and even when they were not. We thought about buying things that are too heavy to carry on a bicycle. We realized that when you ride through a town on a bike you actually see the people and the town. People talk to you because you have a story that you wear in Lycra and bright jerseys.
We took a twenty-mile detour today that would have been unthinkable on the bikes. We drove up the west shore of Lake Winnebago to Oshkosh. Berta wondered why they would name a lake after a camper. John wanted to see the airport where they have the Oshkosh Fly In, which is an annual festival for experimental aircraft. We followed some signs for the airport. We saw a large parking lot with many cars in it. John
exclaimed, “It’s now!” Berta suggested that the Fly In probably doesn’t happen at noon on Wednesday and there are probably other reasons for a factory to have a parking lot full of cars.
John’s enthusiasm took us another half a mile to the airport where we asked for directions to the air museum. The groundskeeper told us to turn left at the second “Stop and Go Light”. We decided that is a pretty accurate way to describe a signal. The Experimental Aircraft Association Museum contains one of the nicest exhibits of any type you will ever see. The many aircraft and memorabilia were really interesting and in fabulous condition. Everything sparkled and all of the interactive displays worked flawlessly. Many of the planes were hanging from cables. We could have spent two days there. There was a big fan you could run by pedaling a recumbent bicycle. It included a readout of how much power we generated. We gave it our best shot but were disappointed with the low gearing on the setup.
We spent a few hours at the museum but still had time and energy to drive to Wisconsin Dells. John remembers going to the Tommy Bartlett’s Ski Show when he was about sixteen. He says the town is much larger than it was then. Picture Las Vegas but busier. The place is covered with amusement parks, water slide parks, and every kind of diversion. There are so many signs that you can’t read most of them, even while inching along in touristy traffic. There is every method for extracting the last shekel from all who visit here. Witness the upside down Whitehouse on the main drag here:
It has asphalt on the top of it on the right end in this picture, like the building was torn from the Earth and flipped over. The white car in the lowest right corner of this picture is pinned under the corner of the building. Yes, it is weird, but the weirdest part is that this did not stand out in Wisconsin Dells.
On this trip, we observed what happens to lost gloves. They are scattered all over the shoulders of the highways we pedaled. Single gloves even beat bungee cords for the number one most prevalent Shoulder Detritus. They sometimes stand up, sometimes with one finger sticking up, and wave at passers by. We think that we saw an average of ten gloves per day. Usually, we saw one at a time. A few times, we could identify the matching glove further down the road that flew off the toolbox from the truck bed.
We carried some items we didn’t use. We didn’t need passports to travel to Canada, and we never needed the folding spare tires we had. We bought a corkscrew that hasn’t seen a wine bottle. The rain pants never left the rain bags. The flashlight never shined. We looked at the manual for the new digital camera on the flight to Boston but not after that. Some items we couldn’t have done without. How did cowpokes in the Wild West make it without sunscreen and wicking material? We really can’t say enough about Cortisone cream and lip balm. We enjoyed high speed Internet access on sixteen out of nineteen nights.
We saw a gift shop in Michigan called Always and Forever that was closed. We talked to an energetic manager at an Esso gas station in Ontario who was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and showed us why (we needed an explanation for this bizarre behavior). In his office was a picture of him as a kid standing next to Art Rooney, the founder of the Steelers, and another picture of this guy’s two sons on a trip to the stadium wearing a fist full of Steelers Championship rings.
Now that we are off the bikes, we are ready for reality. We want to talk with people who know our names and more than two weeks of our history. We are ready to eat what we want for breakfast and to have a choice of more than six pieces of clothing and one pair of shoes. We accept the fading tan lines and the atrophy of muscles.
We had fun and we hope that we have communicated some of that fun to you. Bye Bye.