July 30 London to Brantford, Ontario

This was pretty much a perfect day as we breezed along the country roads of very rural Ontario.  This was a short day — only 68 miles — so we slept late and departed at 8:30 (or 08:30 as Cap’n Blythe would say).  We then tooled along roads that seemed more like country lanes than major thoroughfares.  With only one SAG stop along the way, many of our riders finished by early afternoon.

Local farmers are selling a variety of fruits and vegetables from road side stands.  We’ve stopped to buy fresh cherries and blueberries.  We also like the home made pies we find along the way.  A few days ago in Michigan, my friend and former colleague, Vicki Griffith, came to visit me and brought a bagful of presents from Michigan.  (Vicki is a big Michigan booster).  What surprised me most was the Michigan wine — it’s on par with most Sonoma wines though maybe not yet up to Napa standards.  It disappeared quickly. Though the wine was good, even better were the dried cherries and blueberries.  They seem like perfect food for a long bike trip and I eat a few handsful every morning. I’m on the lookout for more in Ontario.

So now we’re in Brantford, nicknamed The Telephone City.  It was here in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell — then a resident of the town — made the first “long distance” phone call to another city.  The call went all the way to Paris — Ontario, not France.  This is also the hometown of Wayne Gretzky, who became famous by marrying the actress Janet Jones.  Of more international importance, however, Brantford is the hometown of Jay Silverheels — better known as Tonto in the Lone Ranger TV series.  All of which reminds me of my favorite Lone Ranger joke:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto are camped under the stars one night.

Lone Ranger: “Tonto, isn’t it beautiful to see the stars and the moon above us?”
Tonto: “Mmmmm…. do you know what this means kemosabe?
LR: “No, Tonto, what does it mean?”
Tonto: “Someone stole the tent.”

Day’s distance: 68.4 miles (110.1 km)
Average speed: 17.4 mph (28.0 kph)
Day’s climb: 1250 feet (381 meters)
Total distance: 3,097.7 miles (4,985.3km)

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July 29 Port Huron, Michigan to London, Ontario

At 5:00 AM, it looked like we would have a miserable day today.  We were in the midst of a major thunderstorm, a huge sound and light show accompanied by torrential rain. Wait… I wrote that yesterday … is time repeating itself?  Is this Groundhog Day all over again.  Am I having déja vú and amnesia at the same time? … Today was a virtual replica of yesterday.  Miserable weather overnight and then the rain stopped just half an hour or so before we departed.  The clouds stayed and kept us cool and a bit damp.  All in all, nice riding weather as we zipped through Ontario.

Of course, the big news today is that nous sommes au Canada aujourd’hui et demain.  We entered via the Blue Water Bridge.  There’s no bike lane on the bridge so the authorities closed the entire U.S.-to-Canada span and gave us an escort as we rode across.  It was quite the treatment.  It’s a good thing we studied up on our Canadian history because the border guards gave us a pop quiz.  Who’s the prime minister? (Stephen Harper).  Why is it called Canada? (Named after the Kanata Indians). What’s the largest province by area?  (Nunavut). What’s the best baseball team in Canada?  (Toronto Blue Jays). Name the original six teams in the NHL.  (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York, Toronto).  We were ready … and only had to consult Google once.  I’m glad we passed; I’m not sure we would have gotten in otherwise.

So far, Canada has been great.  We rode quickly this morning because rain seemed imminent (just like yesterday).  Around noon, however, the skies began to clear and we started to stop and smell the roses.  In the little town of Delaware, Ontario, we stopped at BJ’s Deli — a lovely little spot — and had fresh made sandwiches and home made ice cream.  After chowing down on Heavenly Hash ice cream (highly recommended), I rode the rest of the afternoon with Science Mary and Cap’n Blythe.  They wore me out, so I’m going to take a short nap and then soak in the hot tub.  Anyone want to join me, eh?

Day’s distance: 82.9 miles (133.4 km)
Average speed: 17.1 mph (27.5 kph)
Day’s climb: 1500 feet (457.2 meters)
Total distance: 3,029.3 miles (4,875.2 km)

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July 28 Birch Run to Port Huron, Michigan

At 5:00 AM, it looked like we would have a miserable day today.  We were in the midst of a major thunderstorm, a huge sound and light show accompanied by torrential rain. By the time we left at 7:30, however, the sturm und drang had largely passed and we were left with a cool, cloudy day and very wet roads.  The clouds stayed with us all day, keeping us cool and creating generally pleasant riding conditions.  We sped along through agricultural fields and some very pretty small towns.  The skies threatened all day but never unleashed the downpour that seemed imminent.

The highlight of our day had to be Yale, Michigan which claims to be the bologna capital of the world.  In the early 20th century, the town claimed three bologna factories.  Today, there’s only one left, but it’s a big one.  The annual Yale Bologna Festival starts tomorrow so, unfortunately, we’re going to miss the festivities.  I gather that one of the highlights is the outhouse race.  Yes, they actually put outhouses on wheels and race them through town.  I’m sorry that we’ll miss the event but I was able to find a picture of last year’s King and Queen of Bologna.  Wouldn’t you like to be the King (or Queen) of Bologna?

Now we’re in Port Huron, the gateway to Canada and the boyhood home of Thomas Edison.  It’s also home to the Blue Water Bridge, a 6,100 foot span originally constructed in 1938, and renovated and expanded in 1999. In 1938, 61,000 vehicles crossed the bridge.  In 2008, almost 5,000,000 vehicles took the trip.  Tomorrow, we’ll add 35 bicycles to the vehicle count.

Since we’re near a large body of water, I should introduce Cap’n Blythe, another one of our riders.  Blythe is a hospital administrator and nurse practitioner — always a good person to have along on a trip like this.  Blythe joined the Navy fresh out of college and wound up staying 30 years.  She’s now a Captain — the highest ranking officer on our ride — and in the process of retiring.  We’re dedicated to helping her transition back to civilian life. Whenever she says things like, “Dinner’s at 18:30”, we say, “No Blythe, dinner’s at 6:30 tonight”.   It will take a while but I’m sure she will successfully transition to civilian life.  The question is where?  Blythe is trying to decide where to live once she retires.  You can give her your advice by commenting on this post.  I’m sure she’ll appreciate your suggestions.

Day’s distance: 88.1 miles (141.8 km)
Average speed: 17.1 mph (27.5 kph)
Day’s climb: 800 feet (243.8 meters)
Total distance: 2,946.4 miles (4,741.8 km)

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July 27 Mt. Pleasant to Birch Run, Michigan

Quick.  Which state has more ski resorts: Michigan or Colorado?

Today was a grind-it-out kind of day. Yesterday, we were all motivated by the challenge of a 113-mile ride.  Today, on the other hand, was an average day at best.  Our legs were tired from yesterday and there was nothing special about today’s ride to give us a boost. The wind didn’t help us today.  Nor were there any spiffy attractions — like a Corn Palace or Canada — to spice up our day.  We saw more corn, more soybeans, and more perfectly coiffed lawns — just like yesterday.  We all just wanted to git ‘er done.

On the other hand, we did see a wide variety of perfectly lovely wildflowers today.  We saw honeysuckle, forget-me-nots, Jacob’s ladder, Indian paintbrush, Michigan lilies, purple loosestrife, periwinkle, Queen Ann’s lace, primrose, and hollyhocks.  It was quite a show.

So, can we talk about money for a moment?  My goal is to raise $10 a mile on this trip, or $36,670.  You’ve been quite generous and I’ve now raised over $29,000.  (The MS web site says $25,000 but you’ve contributed some $4,000 in checks that don’t get counted on the web site).  So, I have $8,000 to go and a little less than two weeks.  The publicity we’ve generated has certainly helped but I need to reach a wider audience.  So, let me ask you a favor.  Would each of you forward a link to this web site (travisbikesamerica.com) to anyone you know who is affected by MS?  That will widen the circle and help me get over the hump.  Thanks for your help.

Michigan has 39 ski resorts.  Colorado has 25.  Yikes!

Day’s distance: 74.4 miles (119.7 km)
Average speed: 15.4 mph (24.8 kph)
Day’s climb: 625 feet (190.5 meters)
Total distance: 2,858.3 miles (4,599.9 km)

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July 26 Ludington to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

We completed the last century (>100 miles in one day) of our tour today in ideal conditions.  We left at dawn when it was still quite cool and rode quickly along a flat course flanked by lakes at every turn.  We saw plenty of low-lying fog early in the morning but it dissipated quickly once the sun was up.  For most of the day, the temperature hovered in the mid-70s and the humidity never really got serious.  Plus, we’re riding in trees now so we get a lot more shade.  The big deal, however, is that we had a tailwind most of the way.  We all agreed at the end of the ride that this was one of the easiest centuries we’ve ever ridden.

Michigan should be called the Land of Lovely Lawns.  Every lawn is neat and trim and well manicured.  It’s like riding along a never ending golf course.  They must spend a ton of money on lawn mowers here.  We’re now in Mt. Pleasant which is a sweet little college town (home of Central Michigan University) and also part of the Chippewa Indian reservation.  So the west side of town looks like a nice college town while the east side looks like Las Vegas — with a huge casino/resort dominating everything else.  It must be an interesting place to live.

Meanwhile, the PR campaign continues.  I don’t have any interviews scheduled (yet) in Michigan but we got some very good coverage in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  In Mankato, Minnesota, the ride was front page news.  You can read the article here: http://bit.ly/rn9vDe.    In La Crosse, Wisconsin, the local affiliate of ABC news gave us a nice spot on the morning news.  You can see it here: http://bit.ly/ojtTsM

Now it’s time to introduce three riders from Europe.  Jan (pronounced yahn) and Andries

Jan Cheese, Connie, Andries

(pronounced andries) are brothers from Holland who are doing the entire coast-to-coast ride.  Since they’re both very strong riders, we’ve nicknamed them the Flying Dutchmen. In Sioux Falls, they were joined by Jan’s girl friend, Connie. She too is a strong rider so we now call them the Flying Dutchpersons. Actually, that’s a bit awkward so we’ve simplified things and started referring to Jan as Jan Cheese. This is actually a nickname that goes back to the 17th century when the Dutch and the English were struggling for supremacy in New Amsterdam (later called New York).  They didn’t like each other so they came up with somewhat derogatory nicknames for each other.  The Dutch called the English roastbeefs based on their dietary preferences. The English did the same for the Dutch, calling them collectively, Jan Cheese.  The nickname is still with us today but the pronunciation has changed.  We now pronounce it yankees.

We’ve passed several milestones in the past few days:

  • We’re now in our seventh state. Only Ontario, New York, Vermont, & New Hampshire are left.
  • We’re in our fourth time zone.
  • We have less than 1,000 miles to go.

Day’s distance: 113.9 miles (183.3 km)
Average speed: 16.5 mph (26.6 kph)
Day’s climb: 2,410 feet (734.6 meters)
Total distance: 2,783.9 miles (4,480.3 km)

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July 25 Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan

I’m on the S.S. Badger cruising across Lake Michigan as I write this.  The Badger is a 410-foot ferry built in 1952 to carry railway cars across Lake Michigan.  It’s now been converted for cars, trucks, motorcycles and, of course, bicycles.  It’s a beautiful day for a cruise — glassy smooth water and a cloudless sky.  A few years ago, on this very same cross-country bike ride, two riders got married in Manitowoc and then spent their honeymoon in a stateroom on the S.S. Badger.  It’s only a four-hour crossing so I wouldn’t call that much of a honeymoon.

Today is officially a rest day even though we’re moving from one place to another.  This

Can we see impure Michigan?

morning, Suellen and I slept late.  Then we rousted out Dave & Fran (Suellen’s brother and his wife), found the Locomotive and Columbus Dan and all drove north to the town of Two Rivers where we met Lou and Betty Benedetto for breakfast.  The cafe had floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Lake Michigan.  It’s beautiful, though I must say, it’s rather flat for a Colorado boy. After breakfast, Loco, Columbus Dan, and I biked over to the ferry.  Dave & Fran drove back to Chicago and Suellen drove back to Milwaukee to fly home to Denver this afternoon.

I won’t see Suellen again until New Hampshire… but that’s not so far away.  Our ride ends two weeks from today.  It’s hard to believe that it’s going so fast and I think all of us riders are sorry that it’s coming to an end.  Still, it’s going to be awfully nice to relax and enjoy our backyard again.

Sleeping Loco

Tomorrow is a 113-mile day from Ludington to Mount Pleasant.  In fact, it’s the last century on our ride.  After tomorrow, the longest ride remaining is a “mere” 93 miles. By the time we finish this tour, we’ll finally be in good enough shape to do a trans-continental ride.  Maybe I should just ride back to Colorado.



Day’s distance: 7.4 miles (11.9 km)
Total distance: 2,677.4 miles (4,308.8 km)

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July 24 Fond du Lac to Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Today, we had a short 57-mile run to the western edge of Lake Michigan.  This really is the Land o’ Lakes — we rode past dozens of them.  We also rode through small towns with names like St. Peter, Marytown, Calvary, and St. Paul.  Apparently, locals refer to this area as the “holy land”.  I swear that one town consisted of nothing but a church and a bar.

TW, Loco & Dave Hornung

Fond du Lac means foot of the lake (not bottom of the lake) — it’s the southernmost point on Lake Winnebago — a large but very shallow body of water. For me, it’s a huge lake but that’s because I’m from Colorado where we don’t get many lakes.  Despite its surface area, Lake Winnebago is only 12 feet deep on average.  Our new friend, Dave Hornung (who took us on the pontoon boat last night), rode with me this morning and described a bike race he helps organize around Winnebago.  It’s called Race the Lake, it’s 90 miles long and it’s coming up on August 21.  They’re expecting 1,600 riders this year so register soon at http://bit.ly/qRl7g0.

TW, Dave & Fran Sebald

We also caught up with another Dave today — Suellen’s brother, Dave Sebald and his wife Fran.  They visited us with their friends Betty and Lou Benedetto. Better yet, the four of them set up a SAG stop for all of us with snacks, cold drinks and good hospitality.  We all enjoyed a short break and then I rode on with Dave and Fran to Manitowoc — right on the edge of Lake Michigan. Tomorrow, we take a ferry across the lake and arrive in our seventh state – Michigan, where we also lose another hour.  I guess that’s a milestone — we’ll be on our fourth time zone tomorrow.

Day’s distance: 57.9 miles (93.2 km)
Average speed: 16.0 mph (25.7 kph)
Day’s climb: 1,200 feet (365.8 meters)
Total distance: 2,670 miles (4,296.9 km)

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July 23 Wisconsin Dells to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Quick — which state has more lakes, Minnesota or Wisconsin?

Spot the limestone

An all-American day as we cruised through small towns in Wisconsin with names like Packwaukee, Montello, and Princeton.  All the towns are neat and trim and tidy — it’s very picturesque. We’re now on the Niagara escarpment, a layer of limestone that extends from here, under the Great Lakes and all the way to Niagara Falls. We see — and often climb — limestone cliffs under acres and acres of trees.  The cliffs create lots of pretty views as well as numerous waterfalls.

We stopped at the American Legion in Princeton for brats and beans. (No, not little brats but bratwurst).  I passed on the sauerkraut but otherwise chowed down on pretty much everything they had to offer.  This was a very popular stop — not just for us but for the locals as well. We especially enjoyed the air conditioning inside the Legion hall.  We arrived early which was good — by noon, the place was packed.   Supposedly, this is the best brat fest in all of Wisconsin

Suellen joined us yesterday in Wisconsin Dells and is going to drive across Wisconsin with us.  Today she took a sentimental journey to Manawa before

Suellen's grandparents' house

catching up with us in Fond du Lac.  Her father grew up in Manawa which was then a town of 900 people.  Her grandfather was the town’s pharmacist and ran the best soda fountain around. Suellen remembers going to the pharmacy as a little girl and getting free Cokes from her Grandpa.  Today, she found her grandparents’ old house, rang the door bell, introduced herself and got a very nice tour from the current owner. She also wandered the streets, (the old school burned down), chatted with locals, bought fresh raspberries, and generally enjoyed the enormous gardens that people keep in Manawa.

This evening, several people who are involved in MS programs in Fond du Lac came to visit us.  Special thanks to Dave Blavat, Dave Hornung, and Cathy and Mark Riechers.  We decided we needed to see a bit more of the local area so we drove to Dave Hornung’s house on a lake (everyone seems to have a house on a lake here) and took a sunset cruise on a pontoon boat.  We saw a waterfall, cranes, and deer.  It was lovely and very nice to chat with people who are working on the same cause.  It happens that Dave Hornung is an avid bicyclist so he’s going to ride with us tomorrow.

Oh — Minnesota has about 10,000 lakes.  Wisconsin has 12,000.

Day’s distance: 84.4 miles (135.8 km)
Average speed: 15.7 mph (25.3 kph)
Day’s climb: 1,600 feet (487.7 meters)
Total distance: 2,612.1 miles (4,203.7 km)

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July 22 La Crosse to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

A very pretty day riding and rolling through an Amish region of farmlands and small towns in lower Wisconsin.  We rode through Bangor and Norwalk before arriving at Sparta.  (Lovely Lucy was immediately looking for warriors).  Sparta is one end of the well known and very pretty Sparta-Elroy bike trail.  The trail is 32 miles long and is reclaimed from the abandoned Chicago & Northwestern Railroad bed — meaning that it’s straight and close to level.  The trail is hard-packed dirt rather than asphalt which makes for good riding though a bit slower than normal.  We rode through long “green tunnels” and crossed a number of small rivers, including the world famous Kickapoo.  (The Locomotive decided he didn’t need a respite on a quiet, shady path so he went off-route to stay on roads.  This is why we sometimes call him Loco).

The best thing about the trail, however, was the three old railroad tunnels.  These were carved out of solid rock in the 1870’s; each one took about 18 months to build.  The longest one is ¾ of a mile; the others are roughly ¼ mile.  They’re all incredibly dark so you need a good flashlight to navigate through them.  In the long one, you literally can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel until you’re more than halfway through.  Of course, shadows bounce around oddly and voices echo eerily — so we all made silly noises and dancing shadows.

Sparta bills itself as the capital of American bicycling and they have a collection of old big wheel bikes — many of them still rideable.  All of which leads me to introduce Dublin

Spot the Irishman

Damian who attempted to ride a statue.  Three words for Damian: charming Irish bloke. Damian has clearly kissed the Blarney stone and can quickly strike up a conversation with anyone.  At the Corn Palace, he absolutely charmed a group of little old midwestern ladies.  They thought he was from Dublin, Ohio but he quickly corrected them.  Damian has been a physical education instructor for some years now. Some of his former students are now famous footballers in Ireland and beyond.  Damian is raising money for Alzheimer’s and he’s asked his famous former students to endorse — it’s a brilliant strategy and I wish I had thought of it.  (But I don’t know anybody famous).  You can learn more on Damian’s web site: www.damiandempster.com.

Day’s distance: 91.4 miles (147.1 km)
Average speed: 14.3 mph (23.0 kph)
Day’s climb: 1,600 feet (487.7 meters)
Total distance: 2,527.7 miles (4,067.9 km)

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July 21 Rochester, Minnesota to La Crosse, Wisconsin

First there is a forest, then there is no forest, then there is.

By general consensus, today was one of the best days on the ride so far.  The temperature dropped by 15 degrees, the humidity abated, and we had good roads and some beautiful scenery.  Most of all, we had trees.  We haven’t seen trees since the Black Hills in South Dakota.  We’ve ridden for days with expansive vistas and wide horizons.  While an open landscape is beautiful in many ways, you get no protection from the wind or sun.  Today, we seemed to cross an invisible line and were back in tree territory.  We could ride, and snack, and even snooze in the shade.  Being back in wooded areas made everything else more enjoyable.

For the past several days — maybe even weeks — we’ve been riding to avoid the heat.  We start very early and take short breaks.  The idea is to ride quickly and get off the road before the afternoon heat arrives.  That’s a good strategy to avoid heat stroke but it leaves little time to see the sites or palaver with the locals.  Today, we relaxed, slowed down and enjoyed ourselves and our surroundings.  We stopped in the delightful little town of Houston, Minnesota for chocolate malts and sandwiches.  (Don’t miss Barista’s Coffee Bar if you go there).  We took longer breaks.  We chatted more — with each other and with locals.  We rode at a slower pace and enjoyed our time in the saddle.

For the second day in a row, I rode with friends and former colleagues.  Yesterday, it was

Lisa, TW, Jen

Jim and Mary Anderson.  Today, it was Lisa Olson and Jennifer Arends, former colleagues at Lawson.  Lisa rode with me and Jennifer organized a superb SAG wagon in her SUV. She had ice, cold drinks, power bars, cookies, and cold, cold watermelon — making her the most popular person of the day.  At the same time, it’s nice to ride with someone like Lisa — she’s sweet, smart, and articulate and we just chatted the hours away.

Minnesota or Sweden?

This is Lutheran country and it seems very much like Sweden or Norway.  We passed one Lutheran church (or graveyard) after another.  They were all neatly tended and spic and span.  The grave stones had Scandinavian names like Halvorson, Anderson, Jansson, and Olson.  I saw a few Norwegian flags by gravestones.  We saw small white farm houses and large red barns.  Several times, I felt like I was transported back to Scandinavia.  It was all very pleasant but I kept a sharp eye out for Lisbeth Salander.

We were also treated to a bike path today.  During most of the tour, we’ve ridden on roads and need to be careful of traffic.  Today, we got a 12 mile stretch of bike path between Rushford and Houston.  It’s a thickly wooded area and, in many places, the trees arched over the path and we were literally riding in a green tunnel.  The path follows the Root River, a pretty little river that’s also full to overflowing.  There’s a legend that the boll weevil originated on the banks of the Root.  The legend is probably not true but locals still refer to the river as the Root of All Weevils.

Speaking of rivers, we’ve just crossed the Mississippi.  The call signs for radio and TV stations now start with a W rather than a K.  I guess we’re “back East” now.

Day’s distance: 88.5 miles (142.4 km)
Average speed: 14.7 mph (23.6 kph)
Day’s climb: 3,200 feet (975.4 meters)
Total distance: 2,436.3 miles (3,920.8 km)


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