Mister Fatface looking for adventure
Missus Fatface is equally beefy-cheeked!
The Force is strong with these tires...
The Mighty Adventure Begins!
Well, here we are--all the way to Minneapolis, Minnesota relaxing with Areca and Karl for the 4th of July weekend. Yay for friends! We've been visiting fools, dashing about the midwest with the great pleasure of a few days with Andy's grandmother and her Swedish guests, Ulla and Torbjorn, before coming here. Unfortunately, I've been having some knee troubles and we had to take a couple of rest days. Fortunately, the Swedes were both knee doctors and gave me a full examination which, to my relief, revealed simply that my patella is jumping its groove and causing inflammation. All this means is that I need to beef up my quads, which I am indeed in the process of doing!
Beef them quads!
So our morning of departure dawned looking a bit forboding weather-wise. It began to rain as soon as we mounted our bikes at 5:30 am, and we had a damp chilly ride out of town accompanied by our farewell party--Amy and her son Matthew pulled behind in a Burley trailer. When we parted ways, the rain really started to come down. But we rode on in true epic adventure style through the torrential rains and the freezing winds--and I am completely baffled by how I could ever have possibly thought that there were no hills in Wisconsin because MAN are there hills. WHEW! Beautiful rolling hills that are a doosey to heft yourself up on a fully loaded bike. Just wait until we get to the Rockies (gulp).
Amy and Matthew
Is this Heaven? No, it's Wisconsin...
After 25 miles, we wheeled our soaking bikes and selves into the town of Lodi where we were greeted by waves and cheers from strangers looking at us in a pitying fashion from the window of a restaurant. We thought we must know them, but when we went to investigate, they said they were just trying to give us moral support. So we went into a coffee shop and had steaming mugs of hot cocoa and chatted with a few of the locals, who were not envious of the 25 miles we had left to go. So, shivering and still wet, we decided we'd better roll on before we lost our resolve. And on we went.
Adventure Buddies Power Team Raincoat Strategy Activate!!!
The rain began to let up a bit around lunchtime, and we made our way to the Merrimac Ferry that took us across the Wisconsin River. Luckily, it was running despite the weather and the river nearly getting the better of its banks from the ridiculous amount of rain we've had this spring. After the ferry, we biked on and the sun peeked out just in time for us to warm up a little with our peanut butter and honey lunch on the side of a little winding road.
The Merrimac Ferry
The approach to Devil's Lake State Park, our destination, was completely miserable. Miles of uphill on a winding road with a crusty or nonexistent shoulder where no vehicle was going less than 70 mph. We resorted to walking after nearly getting squashed a time or two. And then, finally, when we never thought it would end, we arrived at the entrance to the campsite and were greeted by a lovely camping spot under a great sugar maple and the promise of a sunny afternoon. We were totally whipped, and it was heaven to spread our stuff and ourselves out in the sun to soak up some warmth. I don't remember a time feeling more glad to see the sun. We danced around and cooked an incredible dinner of lentils and rice and as the afternoon went on, we kept moving across the campground finding new perching places that were still warmed by the gradually setting sun. Too tired to write in our journals, we played some cards and then passed out in our tent when the sun went down.
And the next morning we were off again. We rode through a sunny crisp morning in the countryside. Everything was damp and shining with dew, and the low angle of the sun made everything look freshly washed. We rode through valleys and over ridges and happened upon a roadside farm called The Berry Farmer. Luck was on our side, because it was strawberry picking day. Cars began to appear from out of nowhere and line up to head out into the fields for picking. We bought a pint of strawberries and a bag of freshly picked sugarsnap peas and had the most glorious mid-morning snack a person could have in spring in the Wisconsin countryside.
On we went, through a wooded glade called the Hoot Owl Valley. It was altogether too steep a climb to get our bikes up the other side, but it was a beautiful, quiet, magical place. The type of place where you wouldn't be surprised if you were approached by a gnome or a wood nymph. A steep, long climb out of the valley to the top of Hogsback ridge rewarded us with a view of the country stretching out forever on all sides.
We rode on, and this was when my knee went from being a bit sore to incessantly burning with every pedal. So we cut our mileage a bit short and settled for a campsite outside of Lyndon Station which, much to our disappointment, was $25.00 a night and fully equipped with mini-golf, "train" rides through the woods (really a trailer dragged by a tractor), a video arcade, and Friday Fish Fry delivery to the campsites. We were the only tent campers that didn't have an inflatable mattress inside our tent. And compared to the number of RV campers, we tent campers were hardly there at all. And we were definitely the only people to have arrived by bicycle. It was not the camping experience we had envisioned, but there we were--stuck until my knee was functional for biking again. Which ended up meaning 2 full days of trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.
What to do with ourselves
The first day of rest was actually wonderful, as we hadn't had time to slow down yet from our harried tying up of loose ends in Madison. We lounged in the sun and wrote in our journals, read books, did a little birdwatching, and had couple of the $1 cups of Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark beer that was the saving grace of the campground. We fell asleep to the roaring of the highway near our campsite and awoke in the mornings to swarms of mosquitoes--the kind that mind neither the sun nor the heat of the day. The second day of rest quickly became claustrophobic, and the rain began in the afternoon, quarantining us to our tent from 3 pm on. Needless to say, we were moving on the in morning regardless of my knee.
Over the next few days my knee got progressively better and the riding became completely glorious. We hooked up with a rails-to-trails bike path called the Elroy-Sparta Trail and biked all day on fairly flat terrain in the absence of cars and, largely, the absence of other people. The trail began looking like Lover's Lane, as the boughs of the trees had grown up and over the trail, stretching out to each other creating a tunnel of green. The sunlight spackled the trail through the filter of leaves and we escaped the beating sun for a while. We counted over two dozen rabbits on the trail one morning, and saw green-backed herons with bright orange legs for mating season. We also kept riding through throngs of tiny little frogs, about the size of my thumbnail, that scattered like mad out of the path of our bike tires. There were orioles zipping about like flecks of gold and goldfinches dancing along beside us like dolphins playing in the wake of a boat. Sandhill cranes warbled in the fields and a pheasant herded her young across the road. Morning is an incredible time of day for seeing the life around you that is often hidden.
We camped at a DNR walk-in campsite outside of Elroy that was the polar opposite of our previous night's experience at the RV park. The campsite was virtually empty, and the sites situated at the top of a cliff rising up over the road. It felt very secluded and peaceful in the afternoon breeze. There were campsites scattered through a field of daisies, campsites tucked into wooded areas, and a single campsite under the boughs of pine trees where the ground was soft and fragrant in the way that only a pine forest creates. This was the campsite that we chose. We spent a relaxed afternoon playing cribbage and basking in the sun.
As the evening approached, a man set up camp at a site across the grassy path. He was touring by bike with only a basket on the front and rear of his bicycle for holding food and gear. His "tent" was simply a mosquito net that he situated over his head and a sleeping bag that he set out on the picnic table at his site. There he slept as soon as the sun went down, and he was already gone by the time we had awoken in the morning.
That night we got to fall asleep to the haunting lullaby of the Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl, and the strange yippings of coyotes communicating over the hills. Fireflies softly lit up the woods as we slept under the screen skylight of our tent. No need for a rainfly that glorious night.
The morning found us biking along the trail, only to come across a number of old, abandoned railroad tunnels. As we walked through the tunnels, the light dimmed and was soon completely absent. Water dripped from the roof and it was impossible without a light to tell whether or not you were about to walk your bike off the edge of the path. There were frequent doorways and indentations on the sides of the tunnels for the safety of the former railroad workers that gave me an unsettling feeling of being watched. As we got deeper and deeper into the tunnels, my eyes began to play tricks on me. At one point I was certain that there was a biker coming towards me from the other direction and I tried to move further to one side. As I did, it appeared that the other biker adjusted themselves to ensure a headlong collision again. So I kept shifting back and forth, only to realize after a while that the little glint of light I had been seeing was in fact a puddle on the floor of the tunnel reflecting the tiny speck of light from the exit far off in the distance. I can't imagine the men who would work in these tunnels. They must have completely lost track of time and space after the hours in the dripping, echoing, complete darkness. I wouldn't be surprised if their eyes grew bulbous and their skin grew sleek and they began discussing their precious with themselves. I don't think I could've done it without going stark raving mad.
Approaching the tunnel
Our night at the DNR campsite in Sparta, after a 35 mile day for the sake of the knee, was absolutely miserable. It was extremely hot and humid and the walk through the grass to the campsite kicked up thousands of persistent whining mosquitoes that didn't leave us until we were safely sweltering in our tent. We couldn't decided which was worse--losing your mind to swarms of mosquitoes or lying in a puddle of your own sweat in a cozy two-man tent where you can't help but stick to the person next to you. It was the worst. But we managed to start out the next morning before 6 am, before the mosquitos could brave the cold, and had the most beautiful, long morning ride with nary a soul to disturb us. We rode next to one another and talked about things and sang songs practically all the way to LaCrosse.
It is so hot in here, I took off all my clothes.
The LaCrosse River Trail brought us right into town to the Riverside Park where Riverfest just happened to be kicking off. There were riverboats coming and going, old-timey bands playing, carnival foods of all kinds, and people strolling about in period costume. We wandered into town to find some bread and cheese and were invited by some street performers to visit the Bawdy House, where a scantily clad painted woman was dangling her leg from a second-story window. LaCrosse is a very cool town, with all the charm of a small city and all the beauty of the Wisconsin hills and the banks of the Mississippi River. We ate our lunch and wandered about the festivities before heading to the bus station where we got an amazing deal on some bus tickets to Minneapolis via Rochester, Minnesota. My knee wasn't up to the hills we would have had to climb to get out of the river valley.
So we hopped a bus, and the man selling us tickets didn't charge us for our bikes or make us box them up, which we were apparently supposed to do. The miles flying by us effortlessly as we looked out the window seemed ridiculous after being so completely aware of every rise and fall of the landscape from the seat of our bikes. The Mississippi stretched for miles and miles, twisting and turning and flattening the valley, before the road wound up steeply into the hills.
We arrived in Rochester, only to find that there was no longer a bus station in town. We were deposited at a gas station way outside of town and made our miserable trek in the scorching afternoon sun through rush hour traffic on busy streets, getting lost a couple of times before finally finding our way to Grandma Karlson's house. Stepping into her house, though, is like stepping into a different world from that of the construction and traffic and blaring noise of a city. We took badly needed showers and washed our clothes and slept in beds in the cool of the air conditioner and ate turkey--all of the things we took for granted when we weren't traveling.
Grandma Karlson is a wonderful woman with bookshelves full to overflowing in every room and pictures of 4 generations of family filling the walls and corners. Her house has that feeling of home that only years of life and family can create, and I was eager to hear stories of her life. She told us about living in the Great Depression in a small house with her mother and siblings and two sons and the necessity of pooling all of their money into a single account, of which only she and her mother were allowed to write checks. She told us of the countless duties she had during her days of teaching and her days in Iowa when her father ran a drugstore. She told us of the Thanksgiving that she fed her husband's 27 visiting relatives. She told us about the 3 years that she and her husband were seperated during the war. An amazing woman with an amazing story.
Beautiful Sarah on the back porch
We sat on her back porch in the mornings watching the birds bathe in the bird bath and the vines blooming up the side of her kitchen window. We baked a pumpkin pie for Ulla, the Swedish woman who had spent a year in high school as part of the Karlson family and was visiting for a high school reunion, and her companion Torbjorn.
Then we were on to Minneapolis. My knee was in excellent shape after the rest, and we met a number of characters on the bus trip here before a wonderful bike ride along the river through the city to Areca and Karl's house. And here we are. We went to see a tree house exhibit in the arboretum outside of the city, wandered about through the 4th of July festivities, watched fireworks from The Stone Arch Bridge over the river, and are generally having a grand old time. We explored Nicollet Island and felt like we were stepping back in time. The streets were made of brick and the houses were old and grandeous--it felt like we were out east. It was quiet and calm, and the only sound was the bumping of the Reggae Festival nearby. What a neat little tucked away secret in this big, bustling city. And tomorrow morning we are off again--it feels like this is the jump-off point where we leave our safety nets behind for a time and our grand adventure west truly begins.